Moving to Alaska? Read This First

So you’re thinking of chucking the rat race and moving to Alaska? Clean mountain and marine air, wildlife at your doorstep, salmon the size of NFL linemen – not to mention those mind-blowing Northern Lights. What’s not to love, right?

Michelle Baxter, a busy wife, mother and running coach, was in your shoes prior to moving to Anchorage 10 years ago.

“Most people move to Alaska for work, a fantasy to fulfill, a fresh start, or in search of adventure,” she says. “Alaska is very much a frontier state and there is so much to do and explore. There are places in Alaska that give you the sense that you may be the only human who has ever seen them.”

Juneau-based writer Geoff Kirsch agrees, with one caveat: “Alaska’s an awesome place to live, but it’s not for everyone. May as well figure that out before you commit yourself. A cousin of mine once moved all her stuff from New York to Anchorage, got to the place she was supposed to live, turned around and drove right back to New York.”

Are you likely to thrive north of parallel 55? Before you make the move, ask yourself:

The Welcome to Alaska sign in America

Do you Really, Really, Really Love Winter?

Because there’s five to six solid months of it up there, with temperatures in interior spots such as Fairbanks plunging to minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit. You will likely plug your car in nightly, as block heaters are de rigueur. You’ll also get snowed in and have your plans changed by storms. A lot. Winter power outages come with the territory.

Can You Live Without Darkness in the Summer?

In mid-summer, when temps average in the low 70s at best, the Alaskan sun sets briefly around midnight, but skies never truly darken.

“It’s great for exploring and fitting in as many activities as possible,” admits Baxter, “but it can almost feel manic because it can be hard to wind down and fall asleep at the end of the day with the sun is still up.”

Kirsch’s advice?

“Invest in the best blackout curtains you can find and be prepared to wear wool and fleece year-round.”

Can You Live Without Sunlight in the Winter?

The reverse is true for winter months, where sunlight is so fleeting that you’ll go to and from work in the dark, every day.

“This can be a bit overwhelming and depressing, especially in January and February, when its usually the coldest,” says Baxter. “It is crucial to find a winter activity or an indoor hobby to maintain your sanity.”

Aurora Borealis in Alaska

Will You Miss Friends and Family?

Because Alaska is so remote and air travel to get there so pricey, you’re likely to see a lot less of your posse from the lower 48.

Can You Afford It?

Not surprisingly, prices for most goods and services are higher in remote Alaska than in the lower 48, with housing, health care and transportation particularly pricey.

“The cost of living is definitely higher and it increases the more remote you go,” says Baxter. “But there are also stores like Best Buy and Target that will match online prices, which can help bring down the price of bigger-ticket items.”

Are You Prepared to Do Some Driving?

Frankly, Alaska is enormous, one-fifth the size of the entire lower 48, and with more coastline. Unless you land near Anchorage (and most people do), you may be miles from the services and activities you’re used to.

Brown bear

Advantages of Living in Alaska

If you answered “yes” to the questions above, then keep reading. Here are some of the advantages of living in Alaska:

  • Jobs are plentiful. How robust is the job market in Alaska? “Very!” says Chastity McCarthy, executive director of Discover Kodiak, an island town of about 6,500. “There are a lot of jobs here, anything from service industry to seasonal to (oil) pipelines and fishing.” Kirsch adds, “Quite honestly, there’s a dearth of young professionals, especially in health care.”
  • No state income tax.
  • No sales tax, except where imposed by a municipality. Anchorage is sales-tax free, while Juneau charges a modest 5 percent citywide sales tax.
  • Alaska pays you to live there. Each October, the state pays every man, woman and child living in Alaska an Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD), from gains realized by the state’s taxation of oil companies. Since its inception in 1982, the annual payout has ranged from $331 to $2,072 in 2015. The PFD for 2016 however was just $1,022.

Colorful houses beneath fog and above water in Seward, Alaska.

The Cost of Moving to Alaska

“Moving to Alaska is fairly straightforward,” says Nicole Mayfield of American Pacific, a 50-year-old, Alaskan-based moving company. “There are no (Canadian) customs procedures that need to be followed, as we primarily transport all household goods shipments over the water, from the port in Seattle/Tacoma, up to Anchorage and Fairbanks.”

Here’s the cost rundown to ship a small houseful of furniture (5,000 pounds) to key Alaska cities via AmPac wooden liftvans:

Seattle to Anchorage: $7,450

Seattle to Fairbanks: $8,500

Los Angeles to Anchorage: $9,700

Los Angeles to Fairbanks: $10,750

Chicago to Anchorage: $9,800

Chicago to Fairbanks: $10,850

Atlanta to Anchorage: $9,750

Atlanta to Fairbanks: $10,800

Miami to Anchorage: $10,000

Miami to Fairbanks: $11,050

If your ultimate destination is waaaay out of town in what Alaskans call the “bush,” be prepared to dig much deeper.

“Moving to the ‘bush’ areas of Alaska can be quite a bit more expensive,” Mayfield warns.

“Most all bush locations, you have to fly the goods from Anchorage to their destination, and there are size restrictions that need to be followed for the airplane, meaning it’s very likely you wouldn’t be able to ship the standard (4’ x 4’ x 8’-high) liftvans. The goods would have to be placed on pallets to accommodate the size restrictions. Then typically a crew would have to be flown to the destination to perform the delivery, since there aren’t moving and storage agents in those remote areas.”

How realistic is a remote bush cabin as a first-time Alaskan residence?

“Unless you know how to live off the land and are used to solitude, not very,” warns McCarthy.

Parting Advice

Visit Alaska and find a home or apartment first. Kirsh warns the latter may take some patience however.

“The best places tend to sort of just open up once you’re here – rentals as well as home buying,” he says. “With rentals, some landlords are leery of people who aren’t physically up here. A lot of times, Alaska plans get scuttled at the last minute.”

Downsize and move yourself.

“Honestly, leave your junk and just get new or gently-used junk once you’re here — there’s plenty to be had,” says Kirsch.

Which is exactly what Baxter and her husband did.

“Some pack everything into a U-Haul and drive the AlCan (Alaska Canada) highway, some take the ferry from Washington,” she says. “We packed everything we owned into the back seat of a car and drove 3,300 to Anchorage in four days. We saw a ton of wildlife and had a very memorable road trip.”

 

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