BACKGROUND: Rhodosporidium toruloides is a promising host for the production of bioproducts from lignocellulosic biomass. A key prerequisite for efficient pathway engineering is the availability of robust genetic tools and resources. However, there is a lack of characterized promoters to drive expression of heterologous genes for strain engineering in R. toruloides. RESULTS: This data describes a set of native R. toruloides promoters, characterized over time in four different media commonly used for cultivation of this yeast. The promoter sequences were selected using transcriptional analysis and several of them were found to drive expression bidirectionally. Promoter expression strength was determined by measurement of EGFP and mRuby2 reporters by flow cytometry. A total of 20 constitutive promoters (12 monodirectional and 8 bidirectional) were found, and are expected to be of potential value for genetic engineering of R. toruloides. CONCLUSIONS: A set of robust and constitutive promoters to facilitate genetic engineering of R. toruloides is presented here, ranging from a promoter previously used for this purpose (P7, glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase, GAPDH) to stronger monodirectional (e.g., P15, mitochondrial adenine nucleotide translocator, ANT) and bidirectional (e.g., P9 and P9R, histones H3 and H4, respectively) promoters. We also identified promoters that may be useful for specific applications such as late-stage expression (e.g., P3, voltage-dependent anion channel protein 2, VDAC2). This set of characterized promoters significantly expands the range of engineering tools available for this yeast and can be applied in future metabolic engineering studies.