G-protein-coupled receptors are membrane proteins that are regulated by a small family of arrestin proteins. During formation of the arrestin–receptor complex, arrestin first interacts with the phosphorylated receptor C terminus in a pre-complex, which activates arrestin for tight receptor binding. Currently, little is known about the structure of the pre-complex and its transition to a high-affinity complex. Here we present molecular dynamics simulations and site-directed fluorescence experiments on arrestin-1 interactions with rhodopsin, showing that loops within the C-edge of arrestin function as a membrane anchor. Activation of arrestin by receptor-attached phosphates is necessary for C-edge engagement of the membrane, and we show that these interactions are distinct in the pre-complex and high-affinity complex in regard to their conformation and orientation. Our results expand current knowledge of C-edge structure and further illuminate the conformational transitions that occur in arrestin along the pathway to tight receptor binding.