Thermoelectric devices that are flexible and optically transparent hold unique promise for future electronics. However, development of 'invisible' thermoelectric elements is hindered by the lack of p-type transparent thermoelectric materials. Here we present the superior room-temperature thermoelectric performance of p-type transparent copper iodide (CuI) thin films deposited by industrially applicable room-temperature sputtering techniques. The optical transmittance is 60–85% in the visible and near-infrared regions. Large Seebeck coefficients and power factors of the obtained CuI thin films are analyzed based on a single-band model. The low thermal conductivity of the CuI films is attributed to a combined effect of the heavy element iodine and strong phonon scattering. Accordingly, we achieve a large thermoelectric figure of merit of ZT = 0.21 at 300 K for the CuI films, which is three orders of magnitude higher compared with state-of-the-art p-type transparent materials. A transparent and flexible CuI-based thermoelectric element is demonstrated.