This article explores the mechanisms that underpin human smuggling and trafficking. It argues for the continued analytical relevance of the distinction between “trafficking” and “smuggling”, as posited by the 2000 UN Protocols. While this distinction has come under sustained criticism from several authors over the last 15 years, it nonetheless continues to capture the essential features of two distinct phenomena (control over a human being vs. illegal entry into a country), and acknowledges the role of agency in smuggling. The paper goes on to discuss three different scenarios that may emerge as a result of the interplay between smugglers and smuggled persons, and it specifies the role of exploitation in each scenario. In addition, the paper offers empirical evidence of the key building blocks of smuggling — namely the search for reliable information and the reaching of an agreement in regard to the service offered — and of how smuggling can turn into trafficking. This work concludes by drawing out the relevant policy implications.