COPI and COPII are vesicle coat complexes whose assembly is regulated by the ARF1 and Sar1 GTPases, respectively. We show that COPI and COPII coat complexes are recruited separately and independently to ER (COPII), pre-Golgi (COPI, COPII), and Golgi (COPI) membranes of mammalian cells. To address their individual roles in ER to Golgi transport, we used stage specific in vitro transport assays to synchronize movement of cargo to and from pre-Golgi intermediates, and GDP- and GTP-restricted forms of Sar1 and ARF1 proteins to control coat recruitment. We find that COPII is solely responsible for export from the ER, is lost rapidly following vesicle budding and mediates a vesicular step required for the build-up of pre-Golgi intermediates composed of clusters of vesicles and small tubular elements. COPI is recruited onto pre-Golgi intermediates where it initiates segregation of the anterograde transported protein vesicular stomatitis virus glycoprotein (VSV-G) from the retrograde transported protein p58, a protein which actively recycles between the ER and pre-Golgi intermediates. We propose that sequential coupling between COPII and COPI coats is essential to coordinate and direct bi-directional vesicular traffic between the ER and pre-Golgi intermediates involved in transport of protein to the Golgi complex.