The plasma membrane protects the cell from its surroundings and regulates cellular communication, homing, and metabolism. Not surprisingly, the composition of this membrane is highly controlled through the vesicular trafficking of proteins to and from the cell surface. As intracellular pathogens, most viruses exploit the host plasma membrane to promote viral replication while avoiding immune detection. This is particularly true for the enveloped human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which assembles and obtains its lipid shell directly at the plasma membrane. HIV-1 encodes two proteins, negative factor (Nef) and viral protein U (Vpu), which function primarily by altering the quantity and localization of cell surface molecules to increase virus fitness despite host antiviral immune responses. These proteins are expressed at different stages in the HIV-1 life cycle and employ a variety of mechanisms to target both unique and redundant surface proteins, including the viral receptor CD4, host restriction factors, immunoreceptors, homing molecules, tetraspanins and membrane transporters. In this review, we discuss recent progress in the study of the Nef and Vpu targeting of host membrane proteins with an emphasis on how remodeling of the cell membrane allows HIV-1 to avoid host antiviral immune responses leading to the establishment of systemic and persistent infection.