Background Glaucoma is the foremost cause of irreversible blindness, and more than 50% of cases remain undiagnosed. Our objective was to report the costs of a glaucoma detection programme operationalised through Philadelphia community centres. Methods The analysis was performed using a healthcare system perspective in 2013 US dollars. Costs of examination and educational workshops were captured. Measures were total programme costs, cost/case of glaucoma detected and cost/case of any ocular disease detected (including glaucoma). Diagnoses are reported at the individual level (therefore representing a diagnosis made in one or both eyes). Staff time was captured during site visits to 15 of 43 sites and included time to deliver examinations and workshops, supervision, training and travel. Staff time was converted to costs by applying wage and fringe benefit costs from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Non-staff costs (equipment and mileage) were collected using study logs. Participants with previously diagnosed glaucoma were excluded. Results 1649 participants were examined. Mean total per-participant examination time was 56 min (SD 4). Mean total examination cost/participant was $139. The cost/case of glaucoma newly identified (open-angle glaucoma, angle-closure glaucoma, glaucoma suspect, or primary angle closure) was $420 and cost/case for any ocular disease identified was $273. Conclusion Glaucoma examinations delivered through this programme provided significant health benefit to hard-to-reach communities. On a per-person basis, examinations were fairly low cost, though opportunities exist to improve efficiency. Findings serve as an important benchmark for planning future community-based glaucoma examination programmes.