Last Updated: March 2, 2023
John Muir, the co-founder of the Sierra Club, was said to have written in his journal:
“You should never go to Alaska as a young man because you’ll never be satisfied with any other place as long as you live.”
This quote offers you a hint of the wonders you’ll experience when you move to The Last Frontier. But in addition to the incredible sights and unforgettable experiences you’ll enjoy, you’ll also discover that Alaska is probably unlike any place you’ve ever lived before.
So in the spirit of welcoming you to the state, we also want to share a few things you should know to help you make a seamless transition to your new home.
#1: Roaming Bears Are a Real Thing
So are moose encounters and bald eagle flybys.
In other words, the expression “getting close with nature” takes on a whole new meaning when you live in Alaska. As you’ll see in the below video from the Anchorage Police Department, it certainly keeps life in Alaska interesting:
In addition to living with the largest population of grizzly bears in North America, you’ll also get treated to seasonal whale watching as well as of bison, caribou, mountain goats, wolves, and Dall sheep.
While the old counsel, “they’re more afraid of you than you are of them,” will serve you in most situations, it wouldn’t hurt to brush up on bear safety before you move. You know—just in case.
#2: The Cost of Living Is High
Alaska owes much of its natural beauty to its isolation, but it comes at a cost. Almost everything has to be shipped into Alaska, which drives costs up, especially where groceries are concerned.
According to Sperling’s Best Places, the cost of living in Alaska is about 16.5% higher than the national average. The top three factors driving that cost? Food, healthcare, and utilities.
To give you a sense of the cost of living in Alaska, check out these prices below:
Grocery Costs in Anchorage
(Source: Fred Meyer)
Costs aside, in a Gallup Poll, Alaskans ranked #1 in the U.S. in terms of satisfaction with their standard of living. Additionally, long-term residents have their own strategies for keeping their bills down, including fishing for food, shopping at farmer’s markets, and utilizing Costco’s three locations in the state for bulk buys.
#3: It’s True, You Get Paid to Live Here
Once you’ve lived in Alaska for a full year—and intend to stay indefinitely—you’ll be eligible for the annual . Although it changes every year, payouts in the last 10 years have ranged from $878 to $2,072. The fund was originally created to set aside a share of oil revenues for the benefit of current and future generations of Alaska residents. PFD day is a big deal in the state. Although many admit to spending it almost immediately, maybe you’ll be the rare resident who sets aside your PFD for a rainy day. The only way to know for sure is to make your move to Alaska!
#4: Alaska Residents Enjoy the Lowest Tax Burden in the U.S.
Another factor that can diminish the impact of Alaska’s higher cost of living is the state’s low tax rates:
What does it all add up to? The lowest overall tax burden in the U.S., according to WalletHub and the Tax Foundation. If you’re moving to Alaska, that’s good news for your bank account.
Additionally, there’s one more perk that can ease a potential cost of living increase.
#5: Buying a Home May Be Within Reach
The Homestead Act of 1862 meant that it was once possible to stake out as many as 160 acres of land in Alaska for less than $20. Although the act was repealed in 1986, Alaska’s near-average home prices mean that homeownership is still within reach for many Alaska residents.
As you can see from the numbers below, the average value of a home in Alaska is a little more than $330,000. At the time this article was written, that was only 2.2% higher than the national average:
Real Estate Costs
In other words, yes, the cost of living is an aspect of life in Alaska that you’ll have to manage carefully. However, with home prices near the national average, that might mean owning a home is within reach, adding an extra layer of security to life in Alaska.
#6: Where You’re Going, You Don’t Need Roads
Although Alaska is more than twice the size of the state of Texas, its highway system is nearly the smallest in the U.S. A whopping 75% of Alaska is inaccessible by car, , its state capitol. As a result, you’ll need either a plane or a boat to explore the entire state.
As you consider where you want to live and work, keep in mind that getting between cities can be a challenge. Make sure you take full advantage of the Alaska Marine Highway, the ferry service operated by the state. Its “blue canoes” (as the ferry boats are known) run along a 3,500 nm route that services 33 ports. These boats will be your lifeline as you explore your new home. You can also take advantage of air taxis and the Alaska railroad to get you where you need to go.
#7: Mark Your Calendar for the Alaska State Fair
If you grew up in the U.S., your State Fair was either a ho-hum happenstance or the most highly-anticipated event of the year. Alaska’s falls solidly into the latter camp.
The Alaska State Fair hosts over 300,000 people every year. Considering the state population was tallied at just over 700,000 in the last census, you can see how seriously Alaskans take this annual event.
When you attend, you’ll enjoy live music (2021 headliners included Martina McBride and Billy Idol), crafts from all over the state, and delicacies including Rolling Donuts’ Cinnamon Sugar Donuts and the fair-famous Talkeetna Spinach Bread. You can also explore livestock exhibits, check out the cabbage and pumpkin weigh-off, join the peanut gallery surrounding the beard contest—and more.
As a new Alaska resident, this will be a don’t-miss event, so make sure to mark off some time around Labor Day weekend to attend.
#8: And Don’t Forget Fur Rondy!
Alaska is also home to the premier winter festival, the Fur Rendezvous, also known as Fur Rondy or just plain “Rondy.” This event gives Alaskans the excuse to bring out their warmest fur hats, jackets, and boots to celebrate Alaska’s winter spirit.
The first Fur Rondy was held in 1935 and today features events like the , which echoes Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls, but with a much lower likelihood of getting gored:
You’ll also enjoy the state Snow Sculpture Championship, outhouse races, and the fair’s Cornhole Championships.
Don’t forget to snag yourself a coveted Fur Rondy pin, designed every year by a different local artist. Older pins have become collector’s items worth thousands of dollars, so make sure to snag yours early.
#9: There’s an Incredible Amount of Native Heritage to Explore
If you want to truly understand Alaska as a whole, take the time to explore its Native heritage. Alaska is home to 227 federally-recognized indigenous tribes. Start your journey at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, where you can learn about the culture of Alaska’s diverse First Nations inhabitants. You’ll also find events planned around Native American Heritage month in November, including events sponsored by the Sealaska Heritage Institute.
Finally, don’t miss the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, which celebrates skills prized by Native cultures for thousands of years, such as the Four Man Carry and the Eskimo Stick Pull. You’ll also enjoy traditional song and dance throughout the events, as well as the opportunity to explore unique Native crafts and art.
#10: You Might Want to Buy a Light Therapy Box
Although many of Alaska’s festivals and events celebrate its seasons, you’ll want to prepare yourself for the dramatic swing in daylight that accompanies them. Yes, you’ll enjoy 24-hour sunlight during the summer months, but the utter darkness of the deep winter has been known to wear on even the toughest Alaskans.
If you’re at all prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), you may want to purchase a light therapy box. (We’re not kidding!) Exposure for around 30 minutes a day can help alleviate some of the more common depression symptoms you might experience during the Alaskan winters.
#11: The Winters Can Be Pretty Extreme
Further on this topic, some new Alaska residents aren’t mentally or physically prepared for the harshness of their first Alaska winter. It will be long, dark, and cold—and you may start to go stir crazy. Our tips will help you get through.
You’ll also need to prepare your car for the winter. Snow tires will make your life a lot easier, no matter where you live. If you’re in the Interior (like Fairbanks), you’ll want things like a block heater, an oil pan heater, and a battery pad heater. (Don’t worry; there are mechanics in Fairbanks who specialize in winterizing cars and can give you a hand.)
Long story short, don’t underestimate the winters in Alaska, even if you’re living in Anchorage. A little groundwork will go a long way toward getting you through your first one, and they generally get easier going forward.
#12: It’s Easiest to Find a Job in Alaska’s Biggest Industries
Although Alaska’s unemployment rate has tended to run at about 1.5% higher than the national average there are still jobs to be found in Alaska. This is especially true if you’ve got experience in one of Alaska’s most popular industries:
- Oil and gas
- Tourism, Leisure & Hospitality
To discover more on the size of each of these industries, as well as the job opportunities available in Alaska, check out our article: Alaska’s Major Industries & Job Opportunities: By the Numbers.
#13: It Is Possible to Live Off the Grid
We’ve helped plenty of people make bush moves to Alaska to live the off-grid lifestyle of their dreams. Just remember that Alaska’s winters can be punishing, so you need to be prepared!. This might mean a power system that includes a wind turbine or solar panels, an inverter, and some kind of battery backup system, all of which may involve more cash outlay than you initially imagined.
As for living off the land in Alaska, that’s also a lifestyle you’ll see in the state. Just remember that Alaska has a relatively short growing season. You may need to invest in a greenhouse system to grow enough food for year-round sustenance. Of course, you’ll meet many in Alaska who fish for their dinner, so that’s an option, too.
Ultimately, if you’re moving to Alaska to embrace a different way of living, no one in the state will look at you askance. Instead, you’ll find plenty of other people like you who embrace similar ambitions.
The Only Way to Really Know Is to Go
Moving to Alaska is a singular experience. Although we’ve shared the top 11 things we think you need to know, your moving experience will ultimately be your own. And at the end of the day, the only way to really know what Alaska is like is to go.
Tell us about your move!