The events that convert adherent epithelial cells into individual migratory cells that can invade the extracellular matrix are known collectively as epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Throughout evolution, the capacity of cells to switch between these two cellular states has been fundamental in the generation of complex body patterns. Here, we review the EMT events that build the embryo and further discuss two prototypical processes governed by EMT in amniotes: gastrulation and neural crest formation. Cells undergo EMT to migrate and colonize distant territories. Not surprisingly, this is also the mechanism used by cancer cells to disperse throughout the body.