Ethnic differences in both disease susceptibility and expression have been noted in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). This review focuses on the evidence of disparities between SLE patients of Asian and Caucasian descent, the two predominant ethnic groups affected by SLE in the Australian context. While epidemiological studies suggest higher rates of SLE among Asian patients, multi-ethnic cohort studies have allowed direct comparison of disease characteristics between different ethnic groups. Such studies suggest that Asians are affected by more severe SLE across a number of disease parameters, including increased renal involvement, autoantibody positivity, disease activity and damage accumulation. As delineation of these disparities becomes clearer, uncovering the biological basis of such differences poses a significant opportunity to progress understanding of SLE pathogenesis. Understanding ethnic variation in disease provides a platform for an individualised approach to risk assessment, monitoring and management of SLE.