Surface polysaccharides are important for bacterial interactions with multicellular organisms, and some are virulence factors in pathogens. In the legume-rhizobium symbiosis, bacterial exopolysaccharides (EPS) are essential for the development of infected root nodules. We have identified a gene in Lotus japonicus, Epr3, encoding a receptor-like kinase that controls this infection. We show that epr3 mutants are defective in perception of purified EPS, and that EPR3 binds EPS directly and distinguishes compatible and incompatible EPS in bacterial competition studies. Expression of Epr3 in epidermal cells within the susceptible root zone shows that the protein is involved in bacterial entry, while rhizobial and plant mutant studies suggest that Epr3 regulates bacterial passage through the plant's epidermal cell layer. Finally, we show that Epr3 expression is inducible and dependent on host perception of bacterial nodulation (Nod) factors. Plant-bacterial compatibility and bacterial access to legume roots is thus regulated by a two-stage mechanism involving sequential receptor-mediated recognition of Nod factor and EPS signals.