Abstract The octupolar metal complexes [Zn(bpy)(L)] (1), [Cd(bpy)(L)] (2), [Hg(bpy)(L)] (3) (bpy=2,2′-bipyridyl, L=4-dimethylamino-α-cyanocinnamic acid) have been synthesized. The third-order nonlinear optical properties of complexes were studied using Z-scan technique at 532nm with nanosecond laser pulses. The complexes show optical limiting behavior. The values of the effective two-photon absorption (2PA) coefficients (β), third-order nonlinear susceptibilities (χ(3)) and two-photon absorption cross sections (σ2) are calculated. Results show, lewis acidity of metal center and molecular symmetry are two important factors for observed large TPA cross-section of metal complexes.