The initial steps of HIV replication in host cells prime the virus for passage through the nuclear pore and drive the establishment of a productive and irreparable infection1,2. The timely release of the viral genome from the capsid—referred to as uncoating—is emerging as a critical parameter for nuclear import, but the triggers and mechanisms that orchestrate these steps are unknown. Here, we identify β-karyopherin Transportin-1 (TRN-1) as a cellular co-factor of HIV-1 infection, which binds to incoming capsids, triggers their uncoating and promotes viral nuclear import. Depletion of TRN-1, which we characterized by mass spectrometry, significantly reduced the early steps of HIV-1 infection in target cells, including primary CD4+ T cells. TRN-1 bound directly to capsid nanotubes and induced dramatic structural damage, indicating that TRN-1 is necessary and sufficient for uncoating in vitro. Glycine 89 on the capsid protein, which is positioned within a nuclear localization signal in the cyclophilin A-binding loop, is critical for engaging the hydrophobic pocket of TRN-1 at position W730. In addition, TRN-1 promotes the efficient nuclear import of both viral DNA and capsid protein. Our study suggests that TRN-1 mediates the timely release of the HIV-1 genome from the capsid protein shell and efficient viral nuclear import.