In vitro import assays have shown that the thylakoid twin-arginine translocase (Tat) system transports folded proteins in a unidirectional manner. Here, we expressed a natural substrate, pre-23K, and a 23K presequence–green fluorescent protein (GFP) chimera in vivo in tobacco protoplasts. Both are imported into chloroplasts, targeted to the thylakoids, and processed to the mature size by the lumen-facing processing peptidase. However, the vast majority of mature GFP and about half of the 23K are then returned to the stroma. Mutations in the twin-arginine motif block thylakoid targeting and maturation, confirming an involvement of the Tat apparatus. Mutation of the processing site yields membrane-associated intermediate-size protein in vivo, indicating a delayed reversal of translocation to the stroma and suggesting a longer lived interaction with the Tat machinery. We conclude that, in vivo, the Tat system can reject substrates at a late stage in translocation and on a very large scale, indicating the influence of factors that are absent in reconstitution assays.