Rao was born and raised in Mumbai; she made her screen debut in Ab Ke Baras (2002), for which she was nominated for the Filmfare Best Female Debut Award in 2003.One of her most popular roles was in the romance film Vivah (2006).She has been called "Bollywood's quintessential girl next-door" by various media outlets.Her younger sister Preetika Rao is a model and a southern film actor.The film faced competition from other films such Raaz 2 and Dev D and failed to do well.With a huge budget, it only managed to gross That same year, Rao took on the lead role in Neeraj Vora's comedy drama Short Kut: The Con is On opposite Akshaye Khanna, produced by Anil Kapoor.She emoted well with convincing histrionics fit for Telugu screen." In 2008, she appeared in the drama film My Name Is Anthony Gonsalves opposite newcomer Nikhil Dwivedi.She played Riya, an orphan who lives a middle-class lifestyle in Mumbai and works as an assistant director for a movie producer.
She took a guest appearance as Nirja Rathore in Shaurya in 2008, a film which revolves around the court-martial of a Muslim officer in the Indian army, for shooting his commanding officer.
Rao had a minor role in Milan Luthria's Deewar; she played Radhika, Gaurang Kaul's love interest. Critical response towards the film was negative, although Rao garnered acclaim for her performance of a school teacher.
Rao co-starred alongside Shahid Kapoor and Sanjay Dutt in the 2005 drama Vaah! Glamsham said the only thing that made the film watchable was the acting of Amrita Rao.
She looks the character and is splendid all through." Rao was cast alongside Mahesh Babu in the 2007 Telugu action film Athidhi.
The film was directed and co-written by Surender Reddy. She received mostly positive reviews, with critics praising the chemistry between Rao and Mahesh Babu.