Moving To Montana? (The Truth About Living Here)

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Are you contemplating a move to Montana?

Montana, known as ‘Big Sky Country’ by the locals, is a state packed with natural beauty. From the soaring Rocky Mountains to The Western Great Plains Badlands the state is an outdoorsman’s (or woman’s) dream come true.

It’s a big state with a small population, with just 1.69 million people call Montana home. In fact, there are just 6.8 people per square mile here, compared with the national average of 87.4. So, if you like your space, and love exploring in the natural wilderness, Montana could be the perfect state for you.

Hiking woman on top happy and celebrating success. Female hiker on top of the world cheering in winning gesture having reached summit of mountain in Montana

Montana’s other nickname is the “Treasure State” since the land is rich with precious metals like gold and silver, as well as gemstones such as diamonds and sapphires. These underground treasures brought a huge gold rush to the state in the mid-nineteenth century when thousands of people migrated here to cash in on the mineral-rich land.

Today, people are still drawn to the Treasure State; around 15,000 people moved here in 2019 alone, but nowadays it’s what’s above the ground that attracts new residents.

If you’re considering moving to “Big Sky Country’, you no doubt have questions. Making a move to any new state is a big decision and one that needs to be carefully thought out and planned for.

In this comprehensive guide we’ll take you through the good, the bad and everything in-between. We’ll cover the best the state has to offer, explore the job market, dive into real estate and help you make the best decision for yourself or your family.

Grab a cup of coffee or your favorite beverage, kick back, and let’s get to it.

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Where Are The Best Places To Live In Montana?

 

Montana is home to a multitude of diverse cities, suburbs, and quaint little towns to choose from. Which is best for you will be largely dependant on the type of lifestyle you hope to enjoy. From bustling city life to laid back countryside, Montana has it all.

Although it would be naïve to think we could cover them all, we’ve done our best to include some of the state’s more popular areas to help get you started.

In no particular order, let’s explore a few of the most popular and well-loved places to move to in the Treasure State.

Bozeman

Beautiful Bozeman is home to just over 40,000 people, but it’s easy to overlook the city’s impressive attributes against the gorgeous backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.

As well as being a particularly aesthetic city, it’s also well connected as compared to a lot of places in Montana where living in the “wilderness” is considered the norm. Bozeman sits in the heart of the state, at the intersection of Route 90 and Highway 191, making travel in and out of its borders a breeze.

Families particularly love Bozeman due to it having some of the best public schools in the state. There’s also a wealth of natural outdoor activities to enjoy for both adults and kids, making it easy to stay active and connected to nature.

Schoolchildren at home time in Montana

There are plenty of local amenities here, fantastic healthcare, and a thriving economy, which explains why the cost of living is pricier in Bozeman than in much of the rest of the state. The average home value in Bozeman comes in at around $475,000 (although as with anywhere, deals can be found for those patient and willing to put in the work).

Four Corners

Just a 15-minute drive west of Bozeman is the leafy suburban town of Four Corners. With a population of only 3,000, Four Corners has a wonderful small-town feel and offers a close-knit community with an impressively low crime rate. The county is also home to some of the best public schools in all of Montana, so it’s a particularly great place to raise a family.

The town boasts many independent businesses supported by locals, and there’s a real focus on buying local and supporting mom and pop type stores rather than the big box chains and generic fast-food drive-thrus.

Cafe owners in Montana

A Four Corners zip code is even more desirable than those in neighboring Bozeman, and the median home price here sits at a hefty $599,000.

Helena

Montana’s state capital is home to around 32,000 people. Although not exactly on par with the millions of residents in other US cities, it’s proportionally large population for Montana means that you’ll enjoy access to a range of conveniences and amenities that are sometimes hard to find in some of Montana’s smaller rural towns.

The city is located halfway between Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park, so an awe-inspiring trip into nature is a breeze if you move to Helena.

Dubbed the Queen City, Montana’s capital boasts a lively and vibrant downtown area with plenty of interesting independent shops, bars, and restaurants, as well as green spaces and leafy parks to explore.

Homes in Helena are much more affordable than some of the other locations on our list. The median property price is around $290,000.

Livingston

There’s something for everyone in the city of Livingston. Situated on the picturesque Yellowstone River down in the southwest of the state, the area is one of the safest places in all of Montana. The city boasts a fantastic public school system, from kindergarten through to higher education, making the area popular with families.

Despite being a kid-friendly city, there’s also a surprisingly great nightlife scene, with plenty of cozy little bars and live music venues to explore in the downtown area.

picture of a stage in a music club

To top it off, Livingston is just 1 hour from Yellowstone National Park, so if you move to here you’re guaranteed to get plenty of visitors keen to explore some of America’s most spectacular natural wonders.

The average home price in Livingston is a relatively reasonable $315,000.

Whitefish

This popular tourist town is the gateway to the Rocky Mountains and the spectacular Glacier National Park. During the warmer months, people come from all over the country to enjoy the panoramic views of the jagged peaks, hike the dense network of trails and enjoy watersports, fishing, and camping by the scenic Whitefish Lake.

The town is also a winter sports hub thanks to the Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort on the adjacent Big Mountain.

The influx of visitors gives the town a vibrant and fresh feel, with plenty of attractions to entertain the family and a great nightlife and culinary scene to boot. The local school system rates above-average, and the area is known for its exceedingly low crime rate; what’s not to love?!

Since Whitefish has so much to offer, it’s understandable that it’s a fairly pricey place to live. The average property in Whitefish goes for around $450,000.

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How Is The Job Market In Montana?

 

Before the COVID 19 pandemic hit, Montana had an impressively low unemployment rate of 3.5%, comfortably below the national average. It shot up to double digits in just a few short months (as did most of the United States) but this figure still beats nationwide stats and is quickly on the rebound.

It’s worth remembering that Montana is a huge state with a small population; the Treasure State has the 3rd lowest population density of anywhere in the nation. With people so spread out, it’s not always easy to find the exact type of job to fit your goals and skill set.

However, the state is poised for continued growth through 2027 and beyond. The Montana Employment Projections published by the Montana Department of Labor and Industry has a very positive outlook on the state’s job market as a whole.

The Report Projects:

  • 3,860 jobs added annually through 2027
  • Labor force growth of 3,640 workers per year through 2027
  • A projected unemployment rate under 3.4% by 2027
  • Employment growth in all five of the state’s regions

Top Industries in Montana

Montana used to be famed for its resource extraction jobs, particularly mining and forestry, but in recent years demand has dwindled and new industries have emerged in their place.

Operations in the log yard at a conifer log mill

Tourism has been on the rise here for some time, and the prime tourist areas of the state have a surplus of jobs on offer, along with a thriving hospitality industry which is boosted by the high numbers of visitors.

With so much land across the Treasure State, it’s no surprise that agriculture is also big business here. Commodities such as wheat and beef are at the top of the produce list, but Montana is also a leading supplier of beets, cherries, potatoes, and hay.

Manufacturing, retail, construction and utilities are also key industries here, and there are plenty of jobs available in these areas for those with the right experience and skills.

Shortlist of The State’s Top Industries:

  • Mining
  • Forestry
  • Agriculture
  • Healthcare
  • Energy
  • Manufacturing
  • Tourism, Travel, and Recreation
  • Transport and Logistics
  • Real Estate and Construction

Montana’s Top Employers

One of the largest sources of employment in Montana is the Blackfeet Indian Reservation headquarters in Browning. There are over 17,300 members of the Black Feet Tribe living here today, making it one of the largest tribes in the United States, and generating more than 4000 jobs.

Another huge employer is The Billings Clinic, which employs over 4,200 staff in a variety of roles, including more than 450 physicians and advanced practitioners with over 50 different specialties.

Aageson Farm in Gildford, and the Malmstrom Air Force Base both take joint 3rd place, with over 3,000 staff each.

Shortlist of The State’s Top Employers:

  • Black Fleet Tribe
  • Billings Clinic Employee
  • Billings Clinic Lab
  • Aageson Farm
  • Malmstrom Air Force Base
  • Public Health & Human Services
  • Kalispell Regional Healthcare
  • Bozeman Deaconess
  • J F Overman Construction
  • University of Montana
  • Big Sky Resort
  • Blackfleet Personnel Department
  • Ttec
  • American Postal Workers Union 

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How Is The Montana Real Estate Market?

 

The median home price in Big Sky Country is higher than the national average, coming in at around $288,000. That said, as with any state, prices vary drastically in different cities and counties. Bozeman and the surrounding areas are home to the most expensive neighborhoods, while cities like Colstrip, Wolf Point and Glasgow in the eastern parts of the state are the most affordable.

Around two-thirds of Montana residents are homeowners, but renting in the Treasure State is still surprisingly affordable. The median rent for a studio apartment statewide is just $560 per month, and a two-bedroom apartment is a reasonable $790- way below the national average.

Bigger cities such as Bozeman and Missoula are more expensive but renting is still surprisingly affordable compared with the costs of owning a home.

Despite the affordable prices, Montanans advise new residents to line up a place to live before making the move to Big Sky Country. A scarce population means a scarcity of housing, and property doesn’t hang around on the market for very long.

Picturesque landscape, fenced ranch at sunrise

Looking for a Bargain in Montana?

Don’t buy in August through December. During these months homes in Montana generally command a premium over the median rate, up to $7000 more. The month with the best prices for value? January through May.

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How Much Does It Cost To Live In Montana?

 

Now that we’ve covered the cost of housing in the Treasure State, let’s look at the overall cost of living to help you budget for your move to Montana. Overall, the cost of living in the state is 6% lower than the national average.

Let’s look at some specifics…

Utilities

It’s good news for utilities; according to the U.S Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average household spends just $94.75 per month on their energy bills, which is well below the national average.

Transportation

Transportation costs vary depending on where you live, but outside of the big cities, it’s essential to have a car to get around. The average gallon of gas in Montana currently costs around $2.40, which is just a smidge over the national average, so no nasty surprises there.

Groceries

Groceries in Big Sky Country tend to be a little prier than the national average, but luckily this is offset by cheaper than average education and healthcare.

picture of Family with shopping cart in supermarket store

Sales Tax

Another financial bonus to living in the Treasure State is the lack of sales tax on all goods aside from beer, liquor, wine, and cigarettes.

Healthcare and Medicine

Healthcare costs in the state, including hospital rooms, doctor visits and dental care are right on par with the national average, being just 0.02% more expensive.

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Is Montana A Good Place To Retire?

 

Montana is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful states in America, so it’s no wonder that many people dream of retiring out in Big Sky Country.

With world-famous sites like Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, unlimited recreation activities, and an active, healthy population, you could do much worse than spending your golden years in Montana.

Taxes in Retirement

Montana is a relatively tax-friendly state for retirees. The lack of sales tax and inheritance tax, along with super low property taxes make it financially beneficial for many, but bear in mind that Montana still taxes some retirees on Social Security income and retirement income from pensions and other retirement accounts.

Cost of Living

If budget is a concern, as previously mentioned, the overall cost of living in the state is very reasonable, coming in around 6% lower overall than the national average. If making your retirement dollars stretch a little further is important, Montana might be the ticket you’re looking for.

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What Are The People And Culture Like In Montana?

 

As we’ve learned, Montana is a pretty sparsely populated state to live in; in fact, there are three times the amount of cows than people in Big Sky Country.

That being said, in the clusters of small towns, pretty villages, and the bigger cities, there’s an overriding feeling of community, and the locals often describe their state as ‘one big, small town’. People tend to get to know their neighbors which helps cultivate a sense of community for new arrivals, but for those coming from more bustling cosmopolitan places like NYC, LA, or San Francisco, this can take some getting used to.

picture of Elderly Father and mature son are saluting with the beer in front of the grill in their house backyard on a beautiful day.

With everything so widely spread apart, the locals are used to driving long distances to get around, but luckily, since even the biggest cities have a relatively low population, traffic isn’t something people generally have to worry about.

With all the incredible scenery around, it’s no wonder that Montanans love to spend a great deal of their time outdoors. Activities like hunting, fishing, camping, skiing, and hiking are a huge part of life. Hunting is also popular here, especially in the more isolated and rural parts of the state. There’s wildlife of all kinds, including grizzly bears, cougars, wolves, and coyotes, and if you’re living in the ‘wilder’ regions of the state, you might want to own a firearm to protect yourself, just in case.

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Some Of The Coolest Things To Do In Montana

 

This sparsely populated state is home to some of the most breathtaking landscapes in America, and there’s no shortage of awesome outdoor activities to try. There’s also a ton of fun and exciting attractions in Montana’s towns and cities too, so let’s take a look at some of the coolest things to do in the Treasure State.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is Montana’s most popular and well-loved tourist attraction (aside from Yellowstone, but since it lies mostly in the neighboring state of Wyoming, it doesn’t make it onto our list).

The park has over 1 million acres of stunning natural beauty to explore, spanning across two mountain ranges. There are over 130 lakes, 1,000 different species of plants, and almost as many species of animals, making it an incredible place for camping, birdwatching, wildlife photography, hiking, and an endless array of outdoor recreation activities.

Wild Goose Island, St. Marys Lake, Glacier National Park

Flathead Lake

With over 200 square miles of water and a 185-mile shoreline, this is the biggest lake in the Western United States.
Flathead Lake sits on a tribal reservation which means visitors must purchase a pass before they arrive. It’s well worth it though, as this is one of Montana’s prime outdoor destinations for fishing, boating, birdwatching, and hiking.

Garnet Ghost Town

Taking a stroll around this Montana landmark is like stepping back in time. This former gold rush town was destroyed by a fire in 1912, but the remains still stand today, making Garnet one of the best-preserved ghost towns in America.

Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

This memorial is one of America’s most famous national landmarks, which commemorates the infamous and bloody battle between the US government and the Sioux and Cheyenne American Indians.  Thousands died here along the Little Bighorn River in the Crow Indian Reservation, and the monument honors those who fought on both sides.

Bozeman Sweet Pea Festival

The Sweetpea Festival in the heart of downtown Bozeman is an annual celebration of art, music, theatre, and dance that sees over 15,000 attendees each year. Events include live music acts with some big international names, as well as theatre and dance performances, children’s activities, arts and crafts sales, a costume ball, and a large beer and wine garden serving up some of Montana’s prized microbrews.

picture of friends drinking beer at Bozeman Sweet Pea Festival

The American Computer and Robotics Museum

This is one of only two museums in the US dedicated to the history of the computer. Located in Bozeman, the museum features a 4,000-year timeline of technological development that eventually led us to where we are today. It gives visitors an in-depth insight into the birth of the first computer and how the invention has changed the course of our lives, for better and for worse.

Garden of One Thousand Buddhas

This huge Buddhist shrine is located on a Native Indian reservation in Arlee and was established as a center for peace in 2000.

The beautiful sweeping circular garden contains rows of white concrete Buddha statues which are arranged to reflect the ‘Noble Eightfold Path’. The Garden of One Thousand Buddhas is a tranquil place for inner reflection and learning about the Buddhist faith.

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The Pros And Cons Of Living In Montana

 

Now that we’ve taken a look at everything Montana has to offer, let’s examine some of the pros and cons of moving to Big Sky Country.

Pros

  • The Great Outdoors. Montana has some of the most breathtaking scenery in the nation. From its epic national parks and the soaring Rocky Mountains to the otherworldly landscapes of the Western Great Plains Badlands, Montana is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream.
  • Plenty of Space. Known as an ‘explorer’s paradise’, Montana has such a small population for its size that for every square mile of land, there is an average of just 6.86 people. Those who like their peace and quiet will love living in Montana.
  • The Lack of Traffic. Fewer people means less traffic, so if you move to the Treasure State you can wave goodbye to sitting in endless gridlock during your daily commute.
  • No Sales Tax. Montana is one of only 4 states in the nation without a sales tax, which adds up to serious savings when you live here.

Cons

  • The Cold Winters. Being so far north up against the Canadian border means the mercury really plummets during the winter months. In fact, the coldest temperatures ever recorded in the US were found here in Montana; in 1936 it fell to an unbelievable 70 degrees below zero.
  • The Wild Animals. While sharing your state with majestic creatures like bears, wolves, and cougars is definitely pretty cool, it can also be dangerous when you’re living out in the wild. It’s a good idea to carry bear spray and even a firearm in certain parts of this wild state.
  • The Isolation. While some people may love living out in the sticks, barely seeing another soul for months at a time can take some getting used to. Living in certain parts of Montana means you’re pretty far away from civilization, so it’s worth bearing this in mind before you make the move.
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Montana Fun Facts & Strange Laws

 

Strange Laws on the Books in Montana

Every state has its fair share of bizarre and outdated laws that seem to make no sense, and Montana is no exception. Let’s take a look at a few of the weirder ones still on the books today.

  • Prostitution is not only illegal, it’s considered a “crime against the family”.
  • It is an offense for a wife to open her husband’s mail.
  • It’s against the law for a couple to have sex in any other position other than missionary style.
  • In Billings, it’s illegal for a band playing where alcohol is served to leave the stage while still performing.
  • It is a crime for a married woman to go fishing alone on Sundays, and unmarried women shouldn’t fish alone at all.
  • It’s illegal to pretend to abuse an animal in the presence of a minor.
  • Sheep transported in the cab of a truck must have a chaperone with them or the driver is committing a traffic offense.

Fun Facts About Montana

To round up our overview of moving to Montana, here are a few fun facts you might not know about the Treasure State.

  • Montana boasts the largest herd of migratory elk in the nation.
  • The state is also home to the largest breeding population of trumpeter swans in the lower US.
  • Parts of Montana see more golden eagles in a single day than anywhere else in the nation.
  • Each square mile of land contains an average of 3.3 deer, 1.4 elks, and 1.4 pronghorn antelope.
  • Montana has the largest grizzly bear population in the lower 48 states.
  • The official state flower is the bitterroot.
  • Buffalo can still be observed in the wild in Montana, at the National Bison Range in Moiese

Are you Ready to Make the Move?

Montana is an incredible state with a lot to offer, especially for those that value a slower pace of life and the great outdoors. We hope that you enjoyed this guide and that the information in it makes your decision a little bit easier.

If we had to part with some final words of wisdom before making the move (to anywhere), we’d suggest taking a trip and exploring for yourself.

 

Further Reading: Looking For More Moving To Montana Resources? Check These Articles Out!

 

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