Mitochondria are surrounded by two distinct membranes: the outer and the inner membrane. The mitochondrial outer membrane mediates numerous interactions between the mitochondrial metabolic and genetic systems and the rest of the eukaryotic cell. Proteins of this membrane are nuclear-encoded and synthesized as precursor proteins in the cytosol. They are targeted to the mitochondria and inserted into their target membrane via various pathways. This review summarizes our current knowledge of the sorting signals for this specific targeting and describes the mechanisms by which the mitochondrial import machineries recognize precursor proteins, mediate their membrane integration and facilitate assembly into functional complexes.