Malaria is an infectious disease, caused by Plasmodium parasites, that remains a major global health problem. Infection begins when salivary gland sporozoites are transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. Once within the host, sporozoites navigate through the dermis, into the bloodstream, and eventually invade hepatocytes. While we have an increasingly sophisticated cellular description of this journey, our molecular understanding of the extracellular interactions between the sporozoite and mammalian host that regulate migration and invasion remain comparatively poor. Here, we review the current state of our understanding, highlight the technical limitations that have frustrated progress, and outline how new approaches will help to address this knowledge gap with the ultimate aim of improving malaria treatments. Copyright © 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.