Although autophagy is being pursued as a therapeutic target in clinical oncology trials, its effects on metastasis, the principal cause of cancer mortality, remain unclear. Here, we utilize mammary cancer models to temporally delete essential autophagy regulators during carcinoma progression. Though genetic ablation of autophagy strongly attenuates primary mammary tumor growth, impaired autophagy promotes spontaneous metastasis and enables the outgrowth of disseminated tumor cells into overt macro-metastases. Transcriptomic analysis reveals that autophagy deficiency elicits a subpopulation of otherwise luminal tumor cells exhibiting basal differentiation traits, which is reversed upon preventing accumulation of the autophagy cargo receptor, Neighbor to BRCA1 (NBR1). Furthermore, pharmacological and genetic induction of autophagy suppresses pro-metastatic differentiation and metastatic outgrowth. Analysis of human breast cancer data reveal that autophagy gene expression inversely correlates with pro-metastatic differentiation signatures and predicts overall and distant metastasis-free survival. Overall, these findings highlight autophagy-dependent control of NBR1 as a key determinant of metastatic progression.