Thinking About Making the Move to Alaska? Read This Guide First.
Table of Contents
- Where Are The Best Places To Live In Alaska?
- How Is The Job Market In Alaska?
- How Is The Alaska Real Estate Market?
- How Much Does It Cost To Live In Alaska?
- Is Alaska A Good Place To Retire?
- What Are The People And Culture Like In Alaska?
- Some Of The Coolest Things To Do In Alaska
- The Pros And Cons Of Living In Alaska
- Alaska Fun Facts & Strange Laws
Alaska, known as America’s Last Frontier, is one of the world’s most sought-after destinations. Known for its vast glaciers, sprawling tundra, snow-capped peaks, and stunning frozen landscapes, it’s a bucket list location for travelers and explorers around the globe, and a hotspot for adventurous vacationers looking for something a little different on their next trip.
This massive state has a comparatively minuscule population for its size, with the last census declaring just 732,000 people who call Alaska home. Also known as the Land of the Midnight Sun, it’s a truly incredible place.
Yet despite all that Alaska has to offer, living there is not for the faint of heart. The winters are harsh, and life outside the major cities can be isolating at times. That said, adventure seekers, and outdoorsmen (and women) thrive in Alaska’s stark beauty and swathes of wilderness, but for others, the challenge may be one worth considering before making the move.
If you’re considering buying a home and setting down roots in this awe-inspiring state, this guide will take you through the good, bad and everything in-between. We’ll help you explore the best places to live, career opportunities, cost of living, best places to check out, fun things to do in the state, and more.
Put on a jacket and pour yourself a cup of hot coffee or cocoa and let’s dive right in….Want a free online moving quote? See our recommendations.
Where Are The Best Places To Live In Alaska?
Alaska is a massive state spanning 633,300 square miles, making up an astonishing 15% of the entire size of the United States. However, despite its size, its location and sometimes harsh way of life has prevented the state from becoming overpopulated or over-industrialized.
Below we’ll help you explore some of the most popular cities to live within the state. In no particular order…
Anchorage is Alaska’s most populated city, with its 300,000 residents make up a staggering 40% of the entire state’s population.
Thousands of tourists visit Anchorage every year, using it as a launchpad to explore the rest of the state. The thriving tourist industry means that there’s an exciting and vibrant feel to this city, especially downtown. You’ll find world-class restaurants, great nightlife, and a wide variety of galleries, museums and cultural highlights to explore.
Winters in Anchorage are, of course, cold and snowy, but you may be surprised to learn that some places in the ‘lower 48’, such as upstate New York and Minneapolis, see harsher temperatures than Anchorage. The city’s position between the Chugach Mountains and the Pacific Ocean means it’s protected from some of the more brutal weather systems that batter Alaska each year.
Anchorage is one of the pricier areas to live in Alaska. The average cost of a single-family home within the city limits currently sites at around $329,000.
Despite being only accessible by ferry, Cordova is frequently voted as one of the best places to call home in Alaska. The city was badly damaged after the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, but in recent years it’s made an incredible comeback.
Cordova is known as being one of the safest places to live in the state, with a crime rate that is 80% lower than the Alaskan average. Cordova also boasts the 2nd lowest unemployment rate across the state, as well as the lowest poverty level, making it one of the more prosperous cities in Alaska with plenty of opportunity for newcomers.
One of the major perks of living in Cordova is the Mount Eyak Ski Area, which is just a stone’s throw away from the city limits. Mount Eyak pulls in crowds from all around the globe, meaning that despite its isolated location, Cordova is by no means culturally cut off from the rest of the world.
The average home price here is relatively high, though, and you can expect single-family houses to be priced around $316,000 on average.
The small port city of Unalaska is the central hub of the Aleutian Islands and has made a name for itself around the world after being a regular feature on the TV show ‘Deadliest Catch’. It goes without saying that the fishing industry is huge here; in fact, Unalaska is famed for being the ‘most productive fishing port in the US’. All that productivity certainly pays off, as it’s also known for being the richest place in Alaska, with a median household income of around $93k per year.
Families particularly love Unalaska due to the safe feel of the city; it’s ranked as the 3rd safest place to live in the state, and there’s also some of the best schools in Alaska here.
History buffs are also drawn to this island town, with attractions such as the Aleutian Islands WWII National Historic Area and the Museum of the Aleutians.
Property in Unalaska remains on the higher side of the state average, with the median home price sitting at $343,000.
The city of Valdez sits on a picturesque fjord on the eastern stretch of Prince William Sound and is home to just under 3,900 people. Valdez is an adventure seeker’s paradise; there are 5 incredible glaciers within easy reach, the famous Keystone Canyon is on its doorstep, and there are countless opportunities for hiking, kayaking, and rafting.
When the residents of Valdez aren’t exploring the great outdoors, it seems they’re dedicated to learning. The city has the lowest high school dropout rate in the state, and over 20% of the population has a master’s degree or higher.
Prices are slightly more affordable in Valdez; the median home price is currently $260,000.
Homer is located on the southwest side of the Kenai Peninsula and is famous for being the halibut fishing capital of the world.
The Homer Spit offers some fantastic shopping opportunities, and the nearby Kachemak State Park and it’s breath-taking hiking trails mean that outdoor adventure is right on your doorstep.
It’s a relatively safe city, with the 4th lowest crime rate across the state, and there’s also a high ranking public school system, so it’s a popular place for families to settle. This explains why Homer is one of the fastest-growing cities in Alaska; the current population of 5,600 people is set to rise dramatically over the next few years.
Property prices reflect the desirability of the city, with the median home price sitting at $273,000.
Juneau is Alaska’s capital city, and, despite the fact that it’s only accessible by boat or plane, is one of the most visited places in the state (coming in second only to Anchorage). This is all down to its incredible location close to places like the Mendenhall Glacier, Nugget Falls, and the Tracy Arm Fjord.
The city of Juneau is home to 32,300 residents and is a mixed bag in terms of areas. Some parts of the city suffer from a less than desirable crime rate, but if you do your research, you’ll find there are some fabulous neighborhoods both downtown and in the surrounding suburbs.
The median household income here over $88k per year, which is the 4th highest in Alaska. This means property prices are pretty steep, at around $344,000 for an average family home.Need cheap moving supplies? Fast free delivery.
How Is The Job Market In Alaska?
According to Alaska.gov, the state ranks 20th in the US for per capita income.
Alaska is infamous for having the highest unemployment rate in America. The figures are pretty shocking, but they’re partly due to the high amount of seasonal work that takes place here. Many people work in lucrative jobs throughout the summer season and take the rest of the year off. Statistically, these seasonal workers are counted as having ‘half a job’. This skews numbers significantly.
The Last Frontier is a resource-rich state with plentiful opportunities for those with the right skills. Alaska’s key industries come as no surprise; fishing is one of the largest markets across the state, and the oil industry is also thriving here. Other natural resource-based industries include forestry and mining for coal, natural gas, gold, other precious metals, and zinc.
Alaska welcomes almost 2 million visitors per year, so the tourism industry is also booming. There are plenty of seasonal summer jobs in both the cities and more remote reaches of the state.
Technology is another rapidly growing sector across Alaska. The geographical position, size, and transportation logistics of the state mean that technology is absolutely essential to the day to day running of things. There are a growing number of high-tech firms hiring software developers, programmers, and other computer-related roles.
And of course, in today’s digitally-driven economy, more companies around the nation are hiring “at home” workers independently of which state they live in. This opens up the doors for those within the state to obtain gainful employment at some of the best and fastest-growing companies nationwide…all from the comfort of their own homes.
Top Employers in Alaska
The largest single employer in Alaska is the Fort Wainright Military Base, with a total of 6,100 employees.
Seafood distribution company Unisea Inc is the second-largest employer across the state; they employ over 5,000 people from their base in Dutch Harbour. Coming in at third place is the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, the largest airport in Alaska, which employs over 4,000 staff.
Other Notable Top Employers in Alaska Includes:
- Providence Health & Services (4000+ employees)
- Carrs-Safeway Alaska Division
- Fred Meyer
- Walmart-Sam’s Club
- Trident Seafoods
- Alaska Airlines
- ASRC Energy Services
- Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation
- Fort Wainwright Federal Credit Union
- Bristol Bay Native
- Chugach Alaska
- Anchorage School District
- NANA Dev
- And more…
How Is The Alaska Real Estate Market?
Alaska’s property prices sit considerably higher than the US average, with a median home price coming in around $300,000. However, once you leave the city limits and head out into the lesser-known reaches of the state, homes and property become much more affordable. In these outskirts, bagging your dream winter-wonderland home with out of this world views becomes possible with a surprisingly small budget.
When it comes to renting, Alaska’s major cities remain the priciest places to call home, but they’re still pretty reasonable compared to cities in the ‘lower 48’; a 1-bedroom apartment in Anchorage goes for an average of $1,100 per month. Head out further into the Alaskan wilderness and you’re looking at much less.
Over the last year, the state has experienced an overall 2.3% decrease in home property values, with the next year forecasted to drop by another 4.8%. This downturn represents a great opportunity for anyone considering a move, with lower home prices and deals springing up left and right as home sellers compete to remain competitive.
Looking to buy a home on the cheap? Pay close attention to local market fluctuations. Oddly enough, Alaska bucks the norm in the major cities, with premium housing prices often spiking during the winter months.Want a free online moving quote? See our recommendations.
How Much Does It Cost To Live In Alaska?
The cost of living is something we all must consider when deciding where to move. Alaska is generally known for its higher cost of living, but there is a silver lining.
If you’re considering relocating to The Land of the Midnight Sun, we’ve got some great news for you; Alaska will actually pay you to move there! A scheme called the Permanent Fund Dividend Program dishes out annual payments to all permanent residents. The amount you can expect to receive changes year to year, but it’s usually between $800 to $1,100. The money is garnered through the state revenue on mineral resources, of which there are plenty, and the Alaskan government shares out the wealth.
This money certainly helps cover the cost of living in the Last Frontier state, where prices can be higher than the US average for things like groceries, transport, and utilities. Being in such an isolated part of the world means that transporting goods to where they need to be can be an expensive endeavor, and prices reflect this.
And now for the not so great news….
Groceries and Food: Expect to pay (on average) 41.7% higher than the national average.
Health and Medical: Costs of healthcare in the state come in at 13% higher than the national average.
Utilities: Utilities including heating and cooling, electricity, gas and more come in at 69.8% higher than the national average.
Transportation: Transportation costs, including vehicle maintenance, insurance, and public transportation come in 1.8% lower than the national average. Although in some cities such as Anchorage expect to pay around 4.6% higher than the national average.
Taxes: The higher cost of living is also offset by some extremely favorable tax laws. Alaska is famed for having the lowest tax rates in America, with no sales tax and no income taxes to pay- pretty incredible, right?Need cheap moving supplies? Fast free delivery.
Is Alaska A Good Place To Retire?
In addition to Alaska’s tempting tax exemptions for the general population, residents aged over 65 pay zero property taxes on anything under $150,000, and there’s also no inheritance tax. This means your retirement savings and pension could go further here than any other state in the nation.
But tax breaks aren’t the only reason to consider retiring in this majestic state. There are several other reasons why retiring in America’s Last Frontier could be the right move for you. From outbound adventures to suit every fitness level, mind-blowing scenery, and some of the world’s most incredible wildlife, you and your visitors will never be bored.
Of course, living in Alaska is not always easy sailing. Certain parts of this isolated state are pretty inhospitable, and temperatures plummet to extremes during the winter months. South-central Alaska, in the Anchorage area, tends to be much milder than other parts of the state, so bear this in mind when you’re scouting out potential neighborhoods.Want a free online moving quote? See our recommendations.
What Are The People And Culture Like In Alaska?
Alaska is a state with a very distinct personality. Its residents can be pretty wild and adventurous, and it goes without saying that outdoor pursuits feature heavily in the lives of the majority of people. It’s people are known as unique, hearty, and sometimes quirky, with a drive for life and a stubbornness that is needed to deal with the harsh climate.
Activities like fishing and hunting are typically considered a social activity, as well as being a source of income and a means to survive for many.
Alaska’s remoteness also means there’s a tight-knit community feel in most of the towns and cities throughout the state. Even in Anchorage, there is a small-town vibe and people tend to know their neighbors.
Visitors often note that Alaska is also a pretty down o earth place to be; there’s not as much emphasis on how much money you earn, what car you drive, or what designer labels you wear as there can be in the rest of the US.
It’s also a surprisingly diverse place, and around 15 percent of residents are Alaska Natives, many of whom maintain strong and proud traditions through activities like hunting, art, crafts, and unique cultural celebrations. Less than 50% of residents in Alaska were born there; the rest are transplants who are mostly from the ‘lower 48’ and parts of Canada, but also from various corners of the globe.Need cheap moving supplies? Fast free delivery.
Some Of The Coolest Things To Do In Alaska
Where do we even start? Alaska tops any other state in the nation in the sheer number of incredible natural wonders to explore. There’s far too many to list them all, but we’ve put together a list of a few of our favorites to get you inspired.
Denali National Park
This national park is home to America’s tallest peak, Mount McKinley, (or Mount Denali as the natives and locals prefer). As well as this incredible soaring giant, there are more than six million acres of truly spectacular scenery to explore; think snow-capped alpine ranges, majestic glaciers, roaring rives endless miles of sprawling tundra. Then there’s the wildlife. People come from all over to world to spot grizzly bears, elk, wolves, and reindeer, just to name a few.
Denali National Park is also one of the top spots in Alaska to go dog sledding with huskies, with various companies putting on tours and demonstrations for visitors.
Tracy Arm Fjord
This is one of the most spectacular places of natural beauty in Alaska, and that’s saying a lot. Tracy Arm Fjord is just south of the capital Juneau, in the Tongass National Forest. It’s surrounded by giant glaciers and is home to raging waterfalls, stunning icebergs, and out of this world rock formations. It’s also a fantastic place to spot brown bears and moose, as well as seals and whales along the wild shoreline.
The Mendenhall glacier is one of the largest and most breathtaking glaciers in Alaska. This 13-mile long ice river sits just next to the Juneau Ice Field, alongside the Coast Mountains, and is easily accessible by car.
The best way to get acquainted with this glacier is to stop by the Visitors Center, where you can watch a fantastic introductory film about the formation of the glacier and the local ecosystem, as well as visit their free exhibition there to learn more about this natural giant. Park rangers are on hand to provide tours and explain the natural history of the site.
Kenai Peninsula National Forest
This sprawling national forest deserves much more than a day trip; many people base themselves in nearby Anchorage and spend a full week exploring the incredible sites of the Kenai Peninsula.
Here you’ll find the vast Harding Ice Field, the Exit Glacier, the Kenai Fjords, and the famous Alaska Railroad. The forest is home to a huge population of bears, and Resurrection Bay, where the forest meets the coastline, is a great place to spot wildlife like migratory whales, sea lions, and otters.
There are tons of ways to explore the park, from taking a ranger-led walking tour, to hopping into a kayak and heading downstream or taking a boat tour along the wild coastline.
The Northern Lights at Fairbanks
There are plenty of places where you can spot the Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis, in Alaska, but Fairbanks is famous for having some of the best views of this natural phenomenon on the planet. The peak viewing season runs between September and April, but be sure to book your accommodation and tour ahead of time; people from every corner of the globe flock here to see the incredible spectacle. Be prepared to stay up late; most tours get the best glimpse of the aurora just after midnight.Want a free online moving quote? See our recommendations.
The Pros And Cons Of Living In Alaska
Now that we’ve taken a look at what Alaska has to offer newcomers, let’s examine some of the pros and cons of moving to The Land of the Midnight Sun. After all, moving to the uppermost peninsula of the United States is a decision you don’t want to take lightly.
The Pros of Moving to AK
Imagine seeing the Aurora Borealis from your own backyard, and spending the weekends hiking out to ancient glaciers or whale watching along the coast. These are the kinds of activities that are on offer right on your doorstep when you choose to live in Alaska. The landscape is truly breath-taking and represents one of America’s last untouched landscape.
Summer Sun All Year Round
Parts of Alaska see 24-hour sunlight during the summer months, so you can head out into the breathtaking surroundings any time, day or night. Even Anchorage gets an incredible 19.5 hours of sunlight during the peak summer solstice.
Anchorage has one of the most diverse populations in the whole of the US in terms of culture and ethnicity. There’s a large native population, as well as immigrants from all over the world who have made Alaska their home.
A Unique Way of Life
Alaskan living is a truly unique experience that few regret having been a part of. It’s culture, way of life, challenges, and isolation have great appeal to those looking to hit the “restart” button and try something totally new.
The Cons of Moving to AK
This is an obvious drawback for many people when considering a move to Alaska. Wherever you are in the state, expect heavy snowfall and plummeting temperatures during the winter months. Anchorage is the warmest area in the state, but winter temps still regularly fall to the 20-degree Fahrenheit mark.
Cold winters are accompanied by long nights. While the summers get wall to wall sunshine, parts of Alaska won’t see the sun fully rise at all during the bleakest parts of winter. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a huge problem across the state during the winter months.
Alaska is very cut off from the rest of the US, which makes traveling to see family and friends an expensive and time-consuming task. Online shopping is also more difficult up in America’s Last Frontier, as not all companies ship their goods up to Alaska. If living in a remote corner of the world doesn’t sound appealing, then think again before moving to Alaska.
High Cost of Living
There’s no getting around this one. Due to its isolated geography, the cost of getting goods in and out of the state drives up the prices of virtually every category of living. Couple that with high unemployment and you have a recipe for disaster if you don’t already have a job waiting, or if you are unable to find suitable “remote” work online.Need cheap moving supplies? Fast free delivery.
Alaska Fun Facts & Strange Laws
Strange Laws in Alaska
Every state has its fair share of bizarre and antiquated laws, and even Alaska is no exception. Let’s take a look at some of the weirder ones from The Land of the Midnight Sun (Unsurprisingly, most of them are moose related).
- It’s against the law to search for a moose from an airplane on the same day that you plan to hunt it.
- In Anchorage, it’s illegal to live in a trailer as it’s being moved across the city.
- It’s an offense to tie a dog to the roof of your car, whether moving or stationary.
- It’s illegal to shove a live moose out of an airplane mid-flight.
- It’s also illegal to whisper in someone’s ear while they are moose hunting.
- In Fairbanks, moose are not allowed to reproduce on city streets.
- It’s against the law to wake up a sleeping bear for a selfie.
- Feeding anything to wildlife is a crime, but there’s a particularly harsh penalty for feeing alcohol to a moose
Fun Facts About the State
To wrap up our overview of moving to Alaska, here are a few fun and surprising facts about America’s Last Frontier.
- Of the 20 highest mountain peaks in America, 17 of them are in Alaska.
- Alaska is home to more than 3,000 rivers and over 3,000,000 lakes.
- There are around 100,000 glaciers in Alaska, covering 5% of the state.
- Alaska is by far the biggest state. It’s twice the size of Texas and the equivalent of 1/5 of the entire US.
- The Northern Lights are visible from Fairbanks 243 days of the year.
- Juneau is the only state capital in America accessible by just boat or plane.
Are you Ready for your Next Life’s Adventure?
Alaska is no doubt an interesting state to live in. It’s a state where the government actually PAYS YOU to live. It’s also a state of boundless nature and majestic landscapes, with some of the best hiking, fishing and hunting in the world. There is no sales or income tax, and the sun can be enjoyed 24 hours a day in the summer. But its not without its challenges. The weather can really put a damper on things, and lack of jobs coupled with the steep price of living can be a bit daunting for some.
We hope you enjoyed this guide and that you get a chance to (at a minimum) visit the 49th state to experience it for yourself.
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About the Author: Kris Lippi is the owner of ISoldMyHouse.com, the broker of Get LISTED Realty and an official member of the Forbes Real Estate Council. He actively writes about real estate related topics such as buying and selling homes, how-to guides for around the house and home product recommendations. He has been featured in Inman, Readers Digest, Fox News, American Express, Fit Small Business, Policy Genius, Lending Tree, GoDaddy, Manta as well as other major websites. Read more about us here.