In eukaryotic cells, organellar proteome biogenesis is pivotal for cellular function. Chloroplasts contain a complex proteome, the biogenesis of which includes post-translational import of nuclear-encoded proteins. However, the mechanisms determining when and how nascent chloroplast-targeted proteins are sorted in the cytosol are unknown. Here, we establish the timing and mode of interaction between ankyrin repeat-containing protein 2 (AKR2A), the cytosolic targeting factor of chloroplast outer membrane (COM) proteins, and its interacting partners during translation at the single-molecule level. The targeting signal of a nascent AKR2A client protein residing in the ribosomal exit tunnel induces AKR2A binding to ribosomal RPL23A. Subsequently, RPL23A-bound AKR2A binds to the targeting signal when it becomes exposed from ribosomes. Failure of AKR2A binding to RPL23A in planta severely disrupts protein targeting to the COM; thus, AKR2A-mediated targeting of COM proteins is coupled to their translation, which in turn is crucial for biogenesis of the entire chloroplast proteome.