This paper provides an overview of conceptual understandings of the relationship between migration, staying put and poverty. While livelihood strategies are diverse and multiple, for many poor people, migration represents a central component of these. However, moving from one place to another has economic and social costs and requires a certain level of human, physical, social and economic capital, thus the option of moving is not available to all amongst the poor. This paper examines the characteristics of those who stay put or are left behind in an environment characterised by out-migration, the processes by which they are excluded from adopting migration as a livelihood strategy and the circumstances under which not migrating sustains poverty or presents an opportunity to move out of poverty. These issues are examined through an analysis of social relations and processes of exclusion, and the ways in which these are structured around poverty-related capitals. © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.