Background Upon ingestion, nanoparticles can interact with the intestinal epithelial barrier potentially resulting in systemic uptake of nanoparticles. Nanoparticle properties have been described to influence the protein corona formation and subsequent cellular adhesion, uptake and transport. Here, we aimed to study the effects of nanoparticle size and surface chemistry on the protein corona formation and subsequent cellular adhesion, uptake and transport. Caco-2 intestinal cells, were exposed to negatively charged polystyrene nanoparticles (PSNPs) (50 and 200 nm), functionalized with sulfone or carboxyl groups, at nine nominal concentrations (15–250 μg/ml) for 10 up to 120 min. The protein coronas were analysed by LC–MS/MS. Results Subtle differences in the protein composition of the two PSNPs with different surface chemistry were noted. High-content imaging analysis demonstrated that sulfone PSNPs were associated with the cells to a significantly higher extent than the other PSNPs. The apparent cellular adhesion and uptake of 200 nm PSNPs was not significantly increased compared to 50 nm PSNPs with the same surface charge and chemistry. Surface chemistry outweighs the impact of size on the observed PSNP cellular associations. Also transport of the sulfone PSNPs through the monolayer of cells was significantly higher than that of carboxyl PSNPs. Conclusions The results suggest that the composition of the protein corona and the PSNP surface chemistry influences cellular adhesion, uptake and monolayer transport, which might be predictive of the intestinal transport potency of NPs.