The spatial distribution of messenger RNAs (mRNAs) within the cytoplasm can be a crucial determinant of gene expression. Here we provide evidence that a devastating viral pathogen, human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1), exploits localized translation to favor the formation of infectious, transmissible virions at the surface of infected cells. Artificially tethering viral mRNAs encoding the Gag and Gag-Pol capsid proteins (gag-pol mRNAs) to alternative regions of the cell such as cytoplasmic vesicles or the actin cytoskeletion markedly alters Gag subcellular distribution, perturbs sites of assembly, and reduces virus particle production. These and additional findings suggest a model for HIV-1 assembly wherein localized Gag/Gag-Pol translation coupled to confined interactions between Gag and viral genomes ensures infectious virion production at the right place and the right time. Perturbing HIV-1 mRNA subcellular localization could represent a novel antiviral strategy.