Across a range of organisms, related species or even populations of the same species exhibit strikingly different scales and patterns of movement. A significant proportion of the phenotypic variance in migratory traits is genetic, but the genes involved in shaping these phenotypes are still unknown. Although recent achievements in genomics will evolve migratory genetics research from a phenotypic to a molecular approach, fully sequenced and annotated genomes of migratory species are still lacking. Consequently, many of the genes involved in migration are unavailable as candidates. Migration is central to the life-history adaptations of many animals. Here, we review current understanding of the genetic architecture of migratory traits and discuss the significant implications this will have for other areas of biology, including population responses to climate change, speciation and conservation management.