The tryptophan metabolite kynurenine has critical immunomodulatory properties and can function as an aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) ligand. Here we show that the ability of T cells to transport kynurenine is restricted to cells activated by the T-cell antigen receptor or proinflammatory cytokines. Kynurenine is transported across the T-cell membrane by the System L transporter SLC7A5. Accordingly, the ability of kynurenine to activate the AHR is restricted to T cells that express SLC7A5. We use the fluorescence spectral properties of kynurenine to develop a flow cytometry-based assay for rapid, sensitive and quantitative measurement of the kynurenine transport capacity in a single cell. Our findings provide a method to assess the susceptibility of T cells to kynurenine, and a sensitive single cell assay to monitor System L amino acid transport.