Lower-income countries contain much of the world’s biodiversity but often lack the institutions and resources for effective biodiversity conservation. Systematic conservation planning (SCP) frameworks provide tools to identify and implement conservation areas effectively and efficiently but rarely address issues central to lower-income countries, which limits SCP’s usefulness in these settings. This paper reviews SCP and discusses how to make SCP more relevant in lowerincome countries. Lower-income countries have small conservation budgets, imperfect measures of conservation costs and benefits, and unique institutions that all influence the siting, management, and implementation of protected area networks. In addition, these aspects of the lower-income country setting inform the reaction of people to a protected area, which determines the conservation effectiveness of the protected areas. Overall, the institutional and socioeconomic settings of lower-income countries create additional layers of complexity that should be incorporated into SCP frameworks at the stage of selecting reserve sites to improve the efficiency of conservation policies.