The objective of this study was to investigate the role of the CeO2 nanoparticle (NP) surface charge and the presence of natural organic matter (NOM) in determining bioavailability and toxicity to the model soil organism Caenorhabditis elegans. We synthesized CeO2-NPs functionalized with positively charged, negatively charged, and neutral coatings. The positively charged CeO2-NPs were significantly more toxic to C. elegans and bioaccumulated to a greater extent than the neutral and negatively charged CeO2-NPs. Surface charge also affected the oxidation state of Ce in C. elegans tissues after uptake. Greater reduction of Ce from Ce (IV) to Ce (III) was found in C. elegans, when exposed to the neutral and negatively charged relative to positively charged CeO2-NPs. The addition of humic acid (HA) to the exposure media significantly decreased the toxicity of CeO2-NPs, and the ratio of CeO2-NPs to HA influenced Ce bioaccumulation. When the concentration of HA was higher than the CeO2-NP concentration, Ce bioaccumulation decreased. These results suggest that the nature of the pristine coatings as a determinant of hazard may be greatly reduced once CeO2-NPs enter the environment and are coated with NOM.