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Moving to Alaska 101

April 22nd, 2019 - 12:56 PM

Getting ready for life in Alaska

Are you dreaming of a new life with breathtaking sights and endless possibilities? If so, you’ve chosen a great destination! Alaska is full of opportunities for new adventures and a fresh start. But because life in the Last Frontier is very different from what you’ll find in the lower 48 (and moving there can pose some challenges), it’s a good idea to learn what to expect. Use this comprehensive guide to explore:

If you already live there and are looking to move to another state, check out this info on moving out of Alaska

Living in Alaska 

While you can talk generally about what life in Alaska is like, it can vary widely from location to location. This makes sense when you consider its size — 663,300 square miles to be exact. Take a look below at the area of Alaska compared to the entire United States; it’s over twice the size of Texas! Some places are more populated and have plenty of amenities, where other areas are small, isolated villages. 

graphic showing size comparison of Alaska in the US

You should look for specific details about the city or region you want to live in, but the following information can help you get to know your new state: 

Cost of living in Alaska

The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce recently did a comprehensive feature on the cost of living. While most things are more expensive than average in Alaska, it isn’t the most expensive place to live. It was actually the 7th most expensive place to live during the first quarter of 2018, coming behind (in order) District of Columbia, New York, California, Hawaii, Maryland and Massachusetts. A few things have similar average costs, like cell phone service ($184 in Anchorage vs. $178 U.S. average) and ribeye steaks ($11 in Anchorage and the U.S. average). However, some items are higher priced here. For example, bananas are almost twice the average cost ($.92 each vs. $.57) and doctor visits are much higher ($188 vs. $108).  

Grocery costs

Grocery costs can vary across the state since it’s more expensive to transport food to more remote areas. Prices are lowest in the urban communities (like Fairbanks and Wasilla) and highest in places where food must be flown in (like Bethel and Nome). Milk is currently around $4.78 a gallon, and gasoline is $3.52, according to a statewide average. 

Unemployment rate 

The unemployment rate is currently 7.2%, which is the highest in the nation. However, it hasn’t changed much in the last 10 years, so it’s pretty steady for the state. According to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the sectors with the most projected growth include management, health care, arts and entertainment, and food service. 

Sunlight and darkness

Because of its location near the Arctic Circle, Alaska has very different amounts of daylight and darkness compared to the lower 48. Winter is very dark, with total daylight around 3-6 hours on average. Along with the cold, the need for additional lights can cause above-average electric bills. Many people take extra Vitamin D and use special sun lamps to try and fight the negative effects of too much darkness. Sunshine is abundant in the summer. Many places experience over 20 hours of daylight, and when the sun does set, it doesn’t get fully dark! To fight this, many people have blackout curtains for their bedrooms so they can sleep. 

Diverse cultures

You’ll find a strong native culture and heritage, including festivals, native foods and even native languages being spoken in some areas. The outdoor culture is strong, with many hunters and fisherman coming to the state for the wide open spaces. Because of its location, you’ll also find many people of Russian descent. 

Alaskan food

You’ll find some unique items on menus across the state, including large game animals like moose, caribou and elk. Wild berries like lingonberries and salmonberries are common. Cold water seafood like halibut and salmon are also popular since they can be caught locally. As far as official Alaska state food, there isn’t any! However, the king salmon is the state fish. Some very traditional foods are akutaq (also known as Eskimo ice cream), which is whipped animal fat with berries and snow. 

Alaskan halibut hanging in Seward


In the summer, you'll enjoy temps in the 60s and 70s, with long summer days. Winter temperatures vary across the state. It'll be colder toward the interior, and warmer near the ocean. Snowfall is always in abundance, and Southeast Alaska receives the most rainfall. In the winter, allow for extra time to shovel snow and clear off the car. 

Four seasons

The seasons fall differently here. Summer is short, mostly June through August. Fall is just a few weeks in September before the snow starts. It will snow through March, and April is the break-up, where you’ll find everything melting and thawing (along with lots of mud). May is the spring month before summer begins again. 

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How to Move to Alaska 

For a long-distance move to Alaska, there are basically three options: full-service movers, a rental truck or a self-moving service. The easiest way to move to Alaska is typically a self-moving service like U-Pack®, since it combines the convenience of a full-service mover with the affordability of a rental truck. 

With U-Pack, you pack and load, but we handle the transportation. We use three types of equipment in Alaska, depending on your location and the specifics of your move. The 28-foot moving trailer is ideal for any size move going to major cities and military bases. The ReloCube container is best for smaller moves that don’t require door delivery (service center unloading is available in Alaska). The 40-foot ocean containers are ideal for larger moves, and they can be delivered door-to-door in many areas. Get a free moving quote to check rates. 

Read more about shipping household goods to Alaska.

Can my pet move with me?

To enter Alaska with a pet, you should have their current health certificate and a current rabies vaccination if the pet is three months or older.

Can I bring my motorcycle or snowmobile?

U-Pack can easily ship motorcycles, snowmobiles and other ATVs to Alaska. This type of equipment can be placed into a trailer, ReloCube or ocean container, as long as you drain the fluids before moving.

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Cost of Moving to Alaska

Moving rates are based on a number of factors (where you’re moving to/from, how much you’re moving, when you’re moving), and prices will vary because of this. The best way to determine how much the move will cost is to get a moving quote from each service type you’re considering. Remember to add all fees (fuel, taxes, etc.) to get the final price if they aren’t included. 

What is the cheapest way to move to Alaska?

U-Pack is one of the fastest, easiest and most affordable ways to move to Alaska. Many find it a great value because of what’s included (moving equipment, fuel, transportation, taxes and liability coverage). Full-service is typically the most expensive way to move, and that can be especially true when you’re looking at moving such a long distance. Get a quote from U-Pack to compare rates.

Is it true that I can get paid to move there?

Unfortunately, it’s not true. However, you can get paid to live there. All you have to do is establish residency and apply for the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD). Read more about the Alaska PFD.

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Places to Live in Alaska

Whether you’re looking to live in a larger city with all the amenities or a small village only accessible by ferry, Alaska can meet your needs. You just need to know what you’re looking for. If you want to attend a university, Anchorage or Fairbanks may be the best bet. But if you’re wanting a slower pace of life, rural communities like Gateway or Ester may be a better option. Take a look at some of the best places to live in each region of Alaska

alaskan cities on map showing Sitka and Ketchikan

Alaska cities by population

If you’re looking for a bigger city, these are the 10 most populated places in Alaska (and the populations, according to the 2010 U.S. Census):

  • Anchorage (291,826)
  • Fairbanks (31,535)
  • Juneau (31,275)
  • Sitka (8,881)
  • Ketchikan (8,050)
  • Wasila (7,831)
  • Kenai (7,100)
  • Bethel (6,080)
  • Kodiak (6,130)
  • Palmer (5,937)

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Traveling to Alaska

There are three main ways to get yourself and your family to Alaska: driving, flying or sailing. The best option will depend on your needs, but keep in mind that you may need a passport to get there. 

  • Driving requires a passport because you’ll be traveling through Canada. Canadian law requires all U.S. citizens to carry a valid U.S. passport, passport card or NEXUS card.
  • Flying does not require a passport because you’re traveling from state to state. Even if you happen to land in Canada (emergency landing, weather, etc.), a passport isn’t required because Alaska is the final destination — just make sure not to leave the airport.
  • Sailing via the Alaska Marine Highway System (with no stops in Canada) won’t require a passport. However, you will need a government-issued ID, such as a driver’s license.


Driving to Alaska will take you through Canada and up the Alaska Highway (also known as the Alcan). The Alcan officially begins in Dawson Creek, BC (about 835 miles from Great Falls, MT) and officially ends in Delta Junction, AK — 1,422 miles later. Once you pass through Fort Nelson, BC, you’ll cross the Rocky Mountains — about 150 miles of narrow roads with curves and hills (and no guardrails through much of it). It can be overwhelming for some, which is why many turn to U-Pack as an alternative to driving a rental truck. Read this guide for more information about driving to Alaska.


Alaska has several regional airports, but the primary ones are in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau. So if you’re flying in, you’ll most likely land there. Direct flights are available from several cities throughout the U.S., but many flights will require a stop in Seattle.  


The Alaska Marine Highway System includes more than 3,500 miles of coastline, making it a scenic way to get to the state! If you have some extra time, or don’t want to drive through Canada, you can get on a ferry in Bellingham, Washington. The ferry will take you (and your vehicle) along the Canadian coast, to stops in Alaska cities like Whittier, Homer and Sand Point.  

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Military Moves to Alaska 

U-Pack moves military members to several bases in Alaska, including Fort Greely, Fort Wainwright, Eielson AFB, and JBER (Elmendorf AFB and Fort Richardson). Doing a Personally Procured Move (or PPM) with U-Pack is essentially the same as doing a civilian move (though you may need empty and full weight tickets for reimbursement, and we can provide them). 

Learn more about PCSing to Alaska.

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Ready to Move to Alaska?

Call 800-413-4799 to speak with a knowledgeable moving consultant, or get a quote online.