Understanding the fate of exogenous cells after implantation is important for clinical applications. Preclinical studies allow imaging of cell location and survival. Labelling with nanoparticles enables high sensitivity detection, but cell division and cell death cause signal dilution and false positives. By contrast, genetic reporter signals are amplified by cell division. Here, we characterise lentivirus-based bi-cistronic reporter gene vectors and silica-coated gold nanorods (GNRs) as synergistic tools for cell labelling and tracking. Co-expression of the bioluminescence reporter luciferase and the optoacoustic reporter near-infrared fluorescent protein iRFP720 enabled cell tracking over time in mice. Multispectral optoacoustic tomography (MSOT) showed immediate biodistribution of GNR-labelled cells after intracardiac injection and successive clearance of GNRs (day 1-15) with high resolution, while optoacoustic iRFP720 detection indicated tumour growth (day 10-40). This multimodal cell tracking approach could be applied widely for cancer and regenerative medicine research to monitor short- and long-term biodistribution, tumour formation and metastasis.