We have followed the transfer of newly synthesized cholesterol to the plasma membrane in cultured fibroblasts using cholesterol oxidase as a probe. Since the enzyme has access only to the plasma membrane in intact cells, it permits the discrimination of cell surface and endogenous cholesterol. Cholesterol synthesized from radiolabeled acetate was transferred to the plasma membrane in a strictly first order fashion with a half-time of 1-2 h at 37°C. The rate of transfer was similar in rapidly growing and confluent cells and was not affected by preincubating the cell in lipoprotein-deficient serum which greatly stimulated cholesterol synthesis. We used equilibrium density gradient centrifugation of homogenates from cholesterol oxidase-treated cells to examine further the distribution of newly synthesized cholesterol between cellular pools. We identified membrane fractions enriched in newly synthesized cholesterol yet inaccessible to cholesterol oxidase. The cholesterol in these membranes eventually moved to the plasma membrane. The movement of exogenous radiocholesterol from the plasma membrane to the cell interior also was examined by this method. No detectable transfer was observed over several hours, during which time endogenous cholesterol moved to the plasma membrane. We conclude that the transfer of newly synthesized cholesterol to the plasma membrane is a vectorial process and is not mediated by a simple diffusional equilibrium.