The aim of the study was to determine whether rates of hepatitis A infection are higher in people of South Asian origin compared to the general population, to look for evidence of spread to the general population, and to identify ways to improve preventive strategies. Routine laboratory reports of hepatitis A infection in England and Wales in 1992–2004 were analysed. Study participants were patients with confirmed hepatitis A infection reported to the Health Protection Agency by the diagnosing laboratory. Nam Pehchan software was used to identify patients of South Asian ethnicity. Main outcome measures were comparison of incidence of hepatitis A in South Asian and non-South Asian groups, by age and region. Rates of infection were significantly higher in the South Asian group compared to the non-South Asian group (rate ratio 2·68, 95% confidence interval 2·07–3·47). Patients in the South Asian group had a younger age distribution. Travel was an important risk factor with 85% of those of South Asian origin acquiring their infection abroad, most frequently in the Indian subcontinent, compared to less than one third of those in other groups. Health-care professionals should ensure that all travellers to high-risk countries are protected by hepatitis A vaccination. Targeted information campaigns may be indicated in regions of the United Kingdom for people in South Asian minority ethnic groups.