Initiation of reverse transcription of a retroviral RNA genome is strictly regulated. The tRNA primer binds to the primer binding site (PBS), and subsequent priming is triggered by the primer activation signal (PAS) that also pairs with the tRNA. We observed that in vitro reverse transcription initiation of the HIV-1 leader RNA varies in efficiency among 3'-end truncated transcripts, despite the presence of both PBS and PAS motifs. As the HIV-1 leader RNA can adopt two different foldings, we investigated if the conformational state of the transcripts did influence the efficiency of reverse transcription initiation. However, mutant transcripts that exclusively fold one or the other structure were similarly active, thereby excluding the possibility of regulation of reverse transcription initiation by the structure riboswitch. We next set out to determine the availability of the PAS element. This sequence motif enhances the efficiency of reverse transcription initiation, but its activity is regulated because the PAS motif is initially base paired within the wild-type template. We measured that the initiation efficiency on different templates correlates directly with accessibility of the PAS motif. Furthermore, changes in PAS are critical to facilitate a primer-switch to a new tRNA species, demonstrating the importance of this enhancer element.