Objectives To compare the quality of life (QOL) between wait-listed patients and heart transplant recipients. Methods Cross-sectional study of 56 adult patients at two institutions in Southern Brazil, 9(16%) wait-listed patients and 47(84%) transplant recipients. Data were collected from August to December 2012. QOL was assessed using the Medical Outcomes Study 36-Item Short-Form Health Survey (SF-36), with scores ranging from zero to 100. Results There was statistically significant difference between the two groups in the overall QOL score (p=0.010) and in four dimensions. The mean rank was 16.9 in wait-listed patients and 30.7 in transplant recipients. Wait-listed patients presented the lowest for general health (9.1) and the highest scores for role-emotional (24.8). Transplant recipients obtained the highest scores for general health (32.2) and the lowest scores for bodily pain (29.1). Conclusions Undergoing a transplant has a positive impact on the QOL of recipients compared to that of patients awaiting transplantation.