Dispersal costs can be classified into energetic, time, risk and opportunity costs and may be levied directly or deferred during departure, transfer and settlement. They may equally be incurred during life stages before the actual dispersal event through investments in special morphologies. Because costs will eventually determine the performance of dispersing individuals and the evolution of dispersal, we here provide an extensive review on the different cost types that occur during dispersal in a wide array of organisms, ranging from micro-organisms to plants, invertebrates and vertebrates. In general, costs of transfer have been more widely documented in actively dispersing organisms, in contrast to a greater focus on costs during departure and settlement in plants and animals with a passive transfer phase. Costs related to the development of specific dispersal attributes appear to be much more prominent than previously accepted. Because costs induce trade-offs, they give rise to covariation between dispersal and other life-history traits at different scales of organismal organisation. The consequences of (i) the presence and magnitude of different costs during different phases of the dispersal process, and (ii) their internal organisation through covariation with other life-history traits, are synthesised with respect to potential consequences for species conservation and the need for development of a new generation of spatial simulation models.