Aim To estimate invasiveness of exotic plant species, many studies have used the frequency of occurrence within a defined region. This measure is informative on how widespread exotics are, however, it does not inform on their local dominance, which is crucial for conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. The aim of the present study is to determine if regional frequency of occurrence of exotic plant species indeed is indicative of their local dominance. We also determined which plant traits and other factors predict regional and local frequencies best. Location The Netherlands. Methods We used information on exotic plant species established in The Netherlands and compared traits relating to their frequency of occurrence regionally (the entire country) and their frequency of dominance locally (in 1–100 m2 quadrats). We created minimal adequate models with factors explaining regional frequency and frequency of local dominance of 111 exotic plant species in The Netherlands. Results The model that used plant traits to explain regional frequency of exotic plant species differed from the models that best explained their frequency of local dominance. Regionally, the factors that correlated with frequency were: life form, height, polyploidy, length of flowering season, residence time, human use and origin. The factors that correlated to frequency of local dominance were lateral vegetative spread and residence time. Main conclusions We conclude that plant traits relating to the regional frequency of exotic plant species differ from those that relate to their frequency of local dominance. The implication of our results is that predictive studies on plant invasiveness based on regional frequencies may not be indicative of the local impacts. Since the prediction of local impacts is crucial for conservation and risk assessment, our study emphasized the need for better information on the local abundance of exotic invaders.