Abstract Little is known about vitamin D status in older adults in South America, where exposures to ultra-violet radiation are high. We examined the distribution of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25OHD) concentration and its determinants in a nationally representative sample of Brazilians aged 50 years and older. Explanatory variables included environment and individuals’ characteristics from the ELSI baseline survey (2015–16). Among the 2,264 participants (mean age = 62.6 years), the geometric mean of 25OHD concentration was 66.8 nmol/L. The prevalence of vitamin D deficiency (< 30 nmol/L) and insufficiency (< 50 nmol/L) were 1.7% (95% CI 1.0, 2.8) and 16% (95% CI 12, 20), respectively. Mean concentrations were lower in those geographical regions situated at lower latitudes. Those at the oldest age, women, self-classified as Black and Brown, living in urban areas and current smokers were more likely to have vitamin D insufficiency, independent of each other and other relevant factors. In contrast, individuals who eat fish regularly were considerably less likely to present lower concentration. Based on these findings it is possible to estimate that about 875,000 older Brazilians have vitamin D deficiency and 7.5 million its insufficiency.