People of South Asian origin are at high risk of type 2 diabetes (T2D), but the underpinning mechanisms are not fully understood. We determined ethnic differences in acylcarnitine, amino acid and sphingolipid concentrations and determined the associations with T2D. Associations between these metabolites and incident T2D among Dutch and South-Asian Surinamese were determined in participants from the Healthy Life in an Urban Setting (HELIUS) study (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) using Prentice-weighted Cox regression. The HELIUS study includes 95 incident T2D cases and a representative subcohort of 700 people from a cohort of 5977 participants with a mean follow-up of 4 years. Concentrations of acylcarnitines were comparable between both ethnic groups. Amino acid and lactosylceramide concentrations were higher among South-Asian Surinamese than Dutch (eg, isoleucine 65.7 (SD 16.3) vs 60.7 (SD 15.6) µmol/L). Ceramide concentrations were lower among South-Asian Surinamese than Dutch (eg, Cer d18:1 8.48 (SD 2.04) vs 9.08 (SD 2.29) µmol/L). Metabolic dysregulation preceded T2D without evidence for a multiplicative interaction by ethnicity. Most amino acids and (dihydro)ceramides were associated with increased risk (eg, Cer d18:1 HR 2.38, 95% CI 1.81 to 3.12) while acylcarnitines, glycine, glutamine and lactosylceramides were associated with decreased risk for T2D (eg, LacCer d18:2 HR 0.56, 95% CI 0.42 to 0.77). Overall, these data suggest that the disturbances underlying amino acid and sphingolipid metabolism may be predictive of T2D risk in populations of both South Asian and European background. These observations may be used as starting point to unravel the underlying metabolic disturbances.