Background Several genetic variants in the ATP-binding cassette transporter A1 (ABCA1) gene have associated with modifications of serum high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) levels and the susceptibility for coronary heart disease, but the findings are still controversial in diverse racial/ethnic groups. Bai Ku Yao is an isolated subgroup of the Yao minority in southern China. The present study was undertaken to detect the possible association of V825I (rs2066715) polymorphism in the ABCA1 gene and several environmental factors with serum lipid levels in the Guangxi Bai Ku Yao and Han populations. Methods A total of 677 subjects of Bai Ku Yao and 646 participants of Han Chinese were randomly selected from our previous stratified randomized cluster samples. Polymerase chain reaction and restriction fragment length polymorphism assay combined with gel electrophoresis were performed for the genotyping of V825I variant, and then confirmed by direct sequencing. Results The levels of serum total cholesterol (TC), HDL-C, apolipoprotein (Apo) AI and ApoB were lower in Bai Ku Yao than in Han (P < 0.01 for all). The frequency of G and A alleles was 57.4% and 42.6% in Bai Ku Yao, and 57.7% and 42.3% in Han (P > 0.05); respectively. The frequency of GG, GA and AA genotypes was 33.7%, 47.4% and 18.9% in Bai Ku Yao, and 33.4%, 48.6% and 18.0% in Han (P > 0.05); respectively. There was no difference in the genotypic and allelic frequencies between males and females in the both ethnic groups. The subjects with AA genotype in Bai Ku Yao had higher serum TC levels than the subjects with GG and GA genotypes (P < 0.05). The participants with AA genotype in Han had lower serum HDL-C and ApoAI levels than the participants with GG and GA genotypes (P < 0.05 for each), but these results were found in males but not in females. Multivariate linear regression analysis showed that the levels of TC in Bai Ku Yao and HDL-C and ApoAI in male Han were correlated with genotypes (P < 0.05 for all). Serum lipid parameters were also correlated with sex, age, body mass index, alcohol consumption, and blood pressure in both ethnic groups (P < 0.05-0.001). Conclusion The present study suggests that the V825I polymorphism in the ABCA1 gene is associated with male serum HDL-C and ApoAI levels in the Han, and serum TC levels in the Bai Ku Yao populations. The difference in the association of V825I polymorphism and serum lipid levels between the two ethnic groups might partly result from different ABCA1 gene-enviromental interactions.