Aim To ascertain if the factors associated with depression differ among ethnic groups in community‐dwelling older people in Kandy District, Sri Lanka. Methods A cross‐sectional survey was carried out of people aged ≥60 years living in a single divisional secretariat of Kandy District. The participants were asked about ethnicity (Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim), sociodemographic characteristics and depression status by face‐to‐face interviews with a structured questionnaire. Depression was measured by the 15‐item Geriatric Depression Scale, and the total score of ≥6 was considered as depression. The χ2‐test and multivariate logistic regression with two‐way interaction terms between sociodemographic characteristics and ethnicity were carried out. Results Participants (n = 778) consisted of 56.6% Sinhalese, 22.1% Tamils and 21.3% Muslims. Of the participants, the prevalence of depression was 31.8% (27.3% in Sinhalese, 42.1% in Tamils and 32.9% in Muslims). Multivariate analyses showed that there were no significant interactions between sociodemographic characteristics and ethnicity. However, low economic status, low perceived social support and more than two self‐reported diseases were significantly associated with depression in all ethnic groups. Conclusions Some factors were found to be significantly associated with depression, but did not differ among ethnic groups. The findings would help practitioners to identify older people with a high risk of depression, and to intervene in its development or exacerbation. Geriatr Gerontol Int 2017; ••: ••–••.