Patients with advanced heart failure have a dismal prognosis and poor quality of life. Heart transplantation provides an effective treatment for a subset of these patients. This article provides cardiologists with up-to-date information about referral for transplantation, the role of left ventricular assist devices prior to transplant, patient selection, waiting-list management and donor heart availability. Timing is of central importance; patients should be referred before complications (eg, cardiorenal syndrome or secondary pulmonary hypertension) have developed that will increase the risk of, or potentially contraindicate, transplantation. Issues related to heart failure aetiology, comorbidity and adherence to medical treatment are reviewed. Finally, the positive role that cardiologists can play in promoting and facilitating organ donation is discussed.