22 Unexpected Things to Know Before Moving to Alaska

Many people dream of a life of outdoor adventure or one of tranquillity away from the hustle and bustle of big city life. When people consider these types of lifestlyles, Alaska often comes to mind.

While there is a lot to love about Alaska, people can sometimes get too caught up in its enticing appeal and forget to consider the practical aspects of life in the Last Frontier.

Not giving it proper consideration can lead to disappointment after making such a big move. In my years living in Alaska, I found that people either loved the Alaskan lifestyle or hated it โ€” didnโ€™t seem to be any in-between.

To help you get a better idea if Alaska is right for you, below are a few things you should know before making a move.

Things to know before moving to Alaska

1. Alaskans Dress for Function, Not Fashion

A couple hiking in Alaska

Travel & Leisure ranked Anchorage as the worst-dressed U.S. city. After all, people wear functional clothing over fashion clothing. In Alaska, trends seem to be a bit slower than in the lower 48.

Instead of a cute jacket and leggings, people opt for “heavy-duty” winter gear, buying brands like North Face, Carhartt, or Columbia. Xtratuf boots are a staple in many Alaskan homes. (They even claim that their boots are “Alaska Proven.”)

2. It’s Expensive

A sunset view of downtown Anchorage, Alaska

Alaska is known as a pretty expensive state to live in.

Although the salaries tend to be higher there, a family with four members can rarely live on a single income. Groceries, food, gas, utilities, and the internet are all a bit pricier in Alaska.

If you are looking for a house, the average home cost in 2021 is $345,231. Those not looking to buy donโ€™t have it any better.

Anchorage’s average rent price is $1,100, and Fairbanks’ average rent price is over $1,200. So, honestly, you will pay closer to $1700 per month if you are looking for a quality rental in a safe neighborhood.

However, living costs are offset by the absence of income tax and sales tax in most states. You can also fish, hunt, and garden to supplement your grocery bill!

3. Alaskans Love Coffee

People at a coffee shop

Alaska is coffee-obsessed! You can find local coffee in nearly every city and town. Even a small town like Sitka has two coffee shops and a drive-thru coffee stand!.

People interested in sampling local blends will find Kaladi Brothers, SteamDot, and Heritage Coffee Roasters are good places to start.

If you are a coffee lover, Alaska might just be the place for you. Don’t worry though, there are many other choices if coffee is not your, ahem, cup of tea.

4. The Dating Scene is Alive and Well

A happy couple on a date

For such a large state, you’d think Alaska would be filled with people. But the truth is that there are less than 1 million residents!

But, if you’re wondering about Alaska’s dating scene, you don’t need to worry. The dating scene is as vibrant as ever!

As with everyone else, Alaskans also use a lot of dating apps to find new friends. However, the best way to find love in Alaska is to do the activities that you enjoy, especially outdoor activities. You will likely meet someone along your journey.

5. High Crime Rate

A yellow barricade tape at a crime scene

Unfortunately, Alaska has a relatively high crime rate, often ranking number one in most crimes per state.

Alaska’s violent crime rate was 885/100,000 people in 2020. This makes it the most violent state per capita. However, in most small towns, you are unlikely to experience very much crime, and even with the statistics, the state is a very peaceful place to live.

6. The Shopping Scene is Not So Great

Women with their shopping bags

When you are moving to Alaska, you have to consider your online shopping habits. Although Amazon and most clothing stores ship to Alaska with their products, Wayfair, IKEA, and other larger retailers will not ship here.

If you have a shopping habit, you may no longer be able to use your favorite online stores, and if you do happen to find somewhere that ships, be prepared to pay exorbitant shipping fees.

Also note that T.J. Maxx and Ross, Marshall’s, and Nordstrom are among the many big-box stores not found in Alaska.

7. Alaskans Buy Local

A woman marinating a mackerel

You will find many great local businesses in Alaska. Handmade goods, furniture, art, and more is available for purchase.

In addition, food trucks offer access to delicious Alaskan favorites like salmon chowder and halibut chips. You can also find great food trucks that provide Cajun, Russian, Thai, Vietnamese, and many other cuisines.

8. Alaska is Very Far Away

A tired couple on a road trip

Alaska is a world apart. It is so far from the “lower 48” that it can often feel like you live in another country. For example, it will take 42 hours to drive from Seattle, WA, to Anchorage, AK. Add in stops and sleep, and it will take you 4-5 days to reach your destination.

If you opt for air travel, you will need to fly 3 1/2 hours to reach Seattle from Anchorage, and you’ll most likely need to take additional flights to reach your destination. Keep this distance in mind if you will be wanting to visit family or friends often.

Alaskans often refer to their departure from Alaska as “going Outside,” meaning any place other than Alaska. This is because it can be very lonely up here, especially during the winter months.

9. Many Places Are Not Walkable

Road trip near Anchorage

It’s nearly impossible to live in Alaska without a car.

Anchorage is an excellent place to live, but even there it can be challenging to travel in winter without a car.

Most likely, you are going to need to learn how to drive and have enough cash to buy a car when planning to move.

10. The Alaska State Fair, One of the Most Popular in the United States

Alaska State Fair is the largest annual festival and is held in Palmer, Alaska. It is open to all residents, and happens during late summer. The fair dates back to 1936.

It is described as the “last chance” for Alaskans to enjoy summer before it ends. Nightly entertainment, carnival rides, games, and unique Alaskan foods are all part of the fair. Alaska’s State Fair, which lasts nearly two weeks, is the largest annual event.

11. Expect a Lot of Day or a Lot of Night

A sunny forest in Alaska

Alaska’s winter nights can be long, while summer nights can be short. Depending on where you decide to settle, the sun might rise in the spring and go down again in the fall. The summer is beautiful, and you can enjoy the Midnight Sun, but it’s a long, hard winter.

Before you move, get to know when the sun rises and sets throughout the year in the location where you plan to live. Think about how you might cope with seasonal depression if you are susceptible to it, and plan to invest in quality blackout curtains to help regulate your day and night clock.

It is essential to be prepared for the sudden swings in daylight that accompany the changing seasons. Even though you will have 24-hour sunshine during summer, the deep winter can be very dark and uncomfortable for even the most hardened Alaskans.

If you’re at all prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), you may want to purchase a light therapy box. Exposure for 30 minutes can reduce some of the common symptoms of depression that you may experience during Alaska’s winters. When I lived on Kodiak as a kid, my mom and I would occasionally go to a tanning bed during the winter months when the cold and dark became overwhelming.

12. Embrace Winter Sports

Dog mushing with huskies in Alaska in winter

Don’t worry about the winter getting long and lonely! It may be dark, but there are so many activities to partake in during the winter months in Alaska. This means that you need to bundle up and get out of your house!

Try snowshoeing, skiing, or ice fishing. Fat tire biking is a new sport that you can try, and it has become prevalent among Alaskans. Not everyone is outdoorsy, and fortunately, Alaska has a few indoor options for you, like a gym or an indoor track.

13. Plenty of Winter Events and Festivals to Enjoy

There are many fun winter events and festivals. Fur Rendezvous or Fur Rondy is the most popular and largest winter event. The festival runs for 10 days and leads up to the Iditarod.

Then, there’s the famous Running of the Reindeer, a carnival that features rides and ice sculptures. You should dress warmly, as riding on a Ferris wheel in temperatures below zero can be pretty cold!

The Iditarod and the Annual Slush Cup at Alyeska are other popular winter events to check out. There is a lot to do even in the dusky darkness of the winter months!

14. There is Not a Lot of Infrastructure

A cabin in Alaska

Alaska is a land with few roads. Also, there aren’t many recreational areas or much public transportation.

There are only seven ski resorts in Alaska. Backcountry skiing and snowboarding are very popular because of this.

Similar situations apply to hiking trails. Although the state maintains the trails well, Alaska is so large that you would expect there to be more. Instead, many make their own adventures and paths up there.

For example, people create their own courses for four-wheeling, snow machining, and hiking. At the end of the day, Alaska is enjoyable because of its vast, almost untouched wilderness and beauty.

15. It is Expensive to Move There

A car loaded with luggage

It is expensive and difficult to move to Alaska. You will need to either sell your belongings or find a moving company that facilitates transport from the lower 48.

You have a few options. You can ship your stuff by barge from Seattle or transport it through Canada. If these don’t appeal to you, you’ll have to hire someone to have your stuff moved to Alaska, which is also pretty expensive and generally is done via cargo ship.

16. Alaska’s Beauty Will Never Cease to Amaze You

A woman admiring the Alaskan landscape

Alaska’s beauty can draw you in. After seeing this landscape, many people feel a deep connection to Alaska.

Whether it is a comfort with nature or the dramatic landscape changes throughout the year due to the extreme seasons, people just become attached to the Last Frontier. There is always something to see every season of the year.

17. Foodies’ Heaven

A serving of reindeer meat

There are many great restaurants in Anchorage and beyond. You can find exquisite reindeer sausage, clam chowder, various Indian foods, delicious sweet potato tots, authentic bbq, and a superb steak. There are so many options because Alaska is so multicultural!

One of my favorite cuisines to sample when Iโ€™m in Alaska is Filipino food!

18. You Need to Learn Bear Safety

A bear in the woods

Living in Alaska comes with many risks, including frostbite, avalanches, and other dangers like bears.

Bears constitute a significant risk, especially for backpackers and hikers who plan to make many trips.

Bears generally leave humans to their own devices. In some cases, they may go out of their way to avoid us! However, it is worth spending some time learning how to avoid frightening a bear or what to do if you encounter one.

19. Alaska’s Native Heritage Has a Rich and Varied History

Did you know that Alaska has 227 federally recognized tribes? The Alaska Native Heritage Center can be found in Anchorage and can help you understand Alaska’s First Nations residents if you are moving to Alaska.

There is a lot of rich history to learn and diverse people to become acquainted with. If you’re a historian, Alaska is a great place to explore the stories of the past.

20. Wildlife Encounters in Alaska Are Pretty Standard

A pair of horned puffins

Alaska living can be as simple as letting a moose cross your road or watching bald Eagles fly overhead in your backyard. You might also see beluga whales from a bike path.

However, the more you go out into the wilderness to kayak, hike, or pursue other outdoor activities, then the better your chances of seeing some of Alaska’s unique wildlife. Puffins, sea otters, sea lions, and bears are just some of the animals you may meet.

21. The Government is More Accessible

Alaska State Capitol building in Juneau, Alaska

Alaska is a small state government-wise. This is advantageous for those who are politically active.

For example, it is possible to run into your governor or state senator on a flight from Anchorage, to Juneau. You’d be surprised how accessible Alaska’s elected officials and politics are.

22. It is Expensive to Leave Alaska

A woman packing her luggage

Although you may not wish to go, you will have to leave the state sometimes. If you need to visit family or friends, it comes at a substantial cost.

Alaska plane tickets can easily cost hundreds of dollars each way. Round trip tickets for four passengers from Anchorage to Los Angeles cost about $2,000. This is a very low-cost trip by Alaska standards, and other trips will cost you more.

Before You Make the Decision to Move, Visit!

The most important thing about moving to Alaska is to realize that you don’t really know what you’re getting into until you have visited โ€” especially in the winter.

Visit Alaska for a few days at the end of November. Visit during January. Do not decide to move to Alaska without careful consideration.

Visit a few times during the most brutal season, winter, to truly understand what you are getting into. However, once you can manage the worst of it, Alaska can become the best place for you to live. See for yourself: here are 10 reasons to move to Alaska.

Donโ€™t let this list scare you off, however. I consider living in Alaska some of the best years of my life, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.