Humans are exposed to nanoscopical nanobiovectors (e.g. coronavirus SARS-CoV-2) as well as abiotic metal/carbon-based nanomaterials that enter cells serendipitously or intentionally. Understanding the interactions of cell membranes with these abiotic and biotic nanostructures will facilitate scientists to design better functional nanomaterials for biomedical applications. Such knowledge will also provide important clues for the control of viral infections and the treatment of virus-induced infectious diseases. In the present review, the mechanisms of endocytosis are reviewed in the context of how nanomaterials are uptaken into cells. This is followed by a detailed discussion of the attributes of man-made nanomaterials (e.g. size, shape, surface functional groups and elasticity) that affect endocytosis, as well as the different human cell types that participate in the endocytosis of nanomaterials. Readers are then introduced to the concept of viruses as nature-derived nanoparticles. The mechanisms in which different classes of viruses interact with various cell types to gain entry into the human body are reviewed with examples published over the last five years. These basic tenets will enable the avid reader to design advanced drug delivery and gene transfer nanoplatforms that harness the knowledge acquired from endocytosis to improve their biomedical efficacy. The review winds up with a discussion on the hurdles to be addressed in mimicking the natural mechanisms of endocytosis in nanomaterials design.