Background We previously demonstrated that the pleomorphic adenoma gene like-2 (PLAGL2) is involved in the pathogenesis of Hirschsprung disease. Enhanced PLAGL2 expression was observed in several malignant tumours. However, the exact function of PLAGL2 and its underlying mechanism in colorectal cancer (CRC) remain largely unknown. Methods Immunohistochemical analysis of PLAGL2 was performed. A series of in vitro and in vivo experiments were conducted to reveal the role of PLAGL2 in the progression of CRC. Results Enhanced PLAGL2 expression was significantly associated with EMT-related proteins in CRC. The data revealed that PLAGL2 promotes CRC cell proliferation, migration, invasion and EMT both in vitro and in vivo. Mechanistically, PLAGL2 promoted the expression of ZEB1. PLAGL2 enhanced the expression and nuclear translocation of beta-catenin by decreasing its phosphorylation. The depletion of beta-catenin neutralised the regulation of ZEB1 that was caused by enhanced PLAGL2 expression. The small-molecule inhibitor PNU-74654, also impaired the enhancement of ZEB1 that resulted from the modified PLAGL2 expression. The depletion of ZEB1 could block the biological function of PLAGL2 in CRC cells. Conclusions Collectively, our findings suggest that PLAGL2 mediates EMT to promote colorectal cancer metastasis via beta-catenin-dependent regulation of ZEB1.