Accurate cellular localization is crucial for the effective function of most signalling molecules and nuclear translocation is central to the function of transcription factors. The passage of large molecules between the cytoplasm and nucleus is restricted, and this restriction affords a mechanism to regulate transcription by controlling the access of transcription factors to the nucleus. In this Review, we focus on the signal transducer and activator of transcription (STAT) family of transcription factors. The regulation of the nuclear trafficking of STAT-family members is diverse. Some STAT proteins constitutively shuttle between the nucleus and cytoplasm, whereas others require tyrosine phosphorylation for nuclear localization. In either case, the regulation of nuclear trafficking can provide a target for therapeutic intervention.