BaWO4 nanostructures doped with different concentrations of Yttrium have been synthesized by a chemical method. The as-prepared samples were characterized by UV–vis diffuse reflectance spectra, X-ray diffraction, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, Transmission electron microscopy and Raman spectra. From the UV–vis spectra, it is seen that absorption band edge shifted towards the visible region upon Y doping. The X-ray diffraction and Raman analyses reveal that the BaWO4 powders present a tetragonal structure. The third-order nonlinear optical responses of BaWO4 nanostructures on the effect of Y concentrations was investigated by Z-scan technique using a continuous wave Nd:YAG laser at 532 nm. Experimental results have shown that the observed nonlinear absorption and nonlinear refraction behavior is attributed to saturable absorption and thermal nonlinear effects. © 2018 Elsevier B.V.