Commodity crop expansion has increased with the globalization of production systems and consumer demand, linking distant socio-ecological systems. Oil palm plantations are expanding in the tropics to satisfy growing oilseed and biofuel markets, and much of this expansion has caused extensive deforestation, especially in Asia. In Latin America, palm oil output has doubled since 2001, and the majority of expansion seems to be occurring on non-forested lands. We used MODIS satellite imagery (250 m resolution) to map current oil palm plantations in Latin America and determined prior land use and land cover (LULC) using high-resolution images in Google Earth. In addition, we compiled trade data to determine where Latin American palm oil flows, in order to better understand the underlying drivers of expansion in the region. Based on a sample of 342 032 ha of oil palm plantations across Latin America, we found that 79% replaced previously intervened lands (e.g. pastures, croplands, bananas), primarily cattle pastures (56%). The remaining 21% came from areas that were classified as woody vegetation (e.g. forests), most notably in the Amazon and the Petén region in northern Guatemala. Latin America is a net exporter of palm oil but the majority of palm oil exports (70%) stayed within the region, with Mexico importing about half. Growth of the oil palm sector may be driven by global factors, but environmental and economic outcomes vary between regions (i.e. Asia and Latin America), within regions (i.e. Colombia and Peru), and within single countries (i.e. Guatemala), suggesting that local conditions are influential. The present trend of oil palm expanding onto previously cleared lands, guided by roundtable certifications programs, provides an opportunity for more sustainable development of the oil palm sector in Latin America.