Id protein family consists of four members namely Id-1 to Id-4. Different from other basic helix-loop-helix transcription factors, they lack the DNA binding domain. Id proteins have been shown to be dysregulated in many different cancer types and their prognostic value has also been demonstrated. Recently, Id-1 has been shown to be upregulated in oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC). However, the prognostic implications of Id proteins in ESCC have not been reported. We examined the expression of the Id proteins in ESCC cell lines and clinical ESCC specimens and found that Id protein expressions were dysregulated in both the ESCC cell lines and specimens. By correlating the expression levels of Id proteins and the clinicopathological data of our patient cohort, we found that M1 stage tumours had significantly higher nuclear Id-1 expression (P=0.012) while high nuclear Id-1 expression could predict development of distant metastasis within 1 year of oesophagectomy (P=0.005). In addition, high levels of Id-2 expression in both cytoplasmic and nuclear regions predicted longer patient survival (P=0.041). Multivariate analysis showed that high-level expression of Id-2 in both cytoplasmic and nuclear regions and lower level of nuclear Id-1 expression were independent favourable predictors of survival in our ESCC patients. Our results suggest that Id-1 may promote distant metastasis in ESCC, and both Id-1 and Id-2 may be used for prognostication for ESCC patients.