Moving to Alaska 101
Getting ready for life in Alaska
Are you dreaming of a new life filled with breathtaking sights and endless possibilities? If so, Alaska is a great destination! It’s 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:
- What living in Alaska is like
- How to move there
- How much a move to Alaska costs
- Popular destinations
- How to travel to Alaska
- Military moves
Already an Alaska resident and planning a move to another state? Check out this info on moving out of Alaska.
Life in Alaska 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 U.S.; it’s more than twice the size of Texas! Some places are more populated and have plenty of amenities, where other areas are small, isolated villages.
You’ll learn more details by looking for specific information about the city or region, but the following information can help you get to know the state:
Cost of living in Alaska
The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce regularly completes a comprehensive feature on the state’s cost of living. While most things here are more expensive than the national average, it isn’t the most expensive place to live. In 2019, 16 urban areas were more expensive than the most expensive place in Alaska (Juneau). Alaska was more affordable than San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, Boston, New York, and Alexandria, VA – to name a few. Overall, it’s the 7th most expensive state to live in. A few things are close in cost to the national average, like cell phone service ($179 in Anchorage, equal to the U.S. average) and pizza ($10.99 in Anchorage for a medium cheese pie compared to the $10.31 U.S. average). But some items are priced higher here. For example, iceburg lettuce is higher than the average cost ($2.23 each vs. $1.55), and an eye exam costs much more ($256 vs. $104).
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 $4.95, according to a statewide average.
The unemployment rate is currently 6.3% — the highest in the nation — but it hasn’t changed much in the last 10 years. 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 different amounts of daylight and darkness compared to the lower 48. Winter is dark, with total daylight around 3-6 hours on average. Along with the cold, the need for more light can lead to higher-than-average electric bills. Many people take extra Vitamin D and use special sun lamps to fight the adverse effects of extreme darkness. In the summer, however, sunshine is abundant. Some places experience more than 20 hours of daylight, and when the sun does set, it still doesn’t get completely dark! To counteract this, residents may use blackout curtains in their bedrooms so they can sleep.
Alaska has an influential native culture and heritage, including festivals, native foods and even native languages being spoken in some areas. Hunters and fisherman often come to the state to enjoy outdoor culture and wide-open spaces. Because of Alaska’s location, there are some elements from Russian culture as well.
When looking at menus across the state, they have some unique items, 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 the official state food, there isn’t any! But the king salmon is the state fish. An example of a traditional Alaskan dish is akutaq (also known as Eskimo ice cream), which is whipped animal fat with berries and snow.
After moving to Alaska, you'll enjoy summer temps in the 60s and 70s. Winter temperatures vary across the state. It'll be colder toward the interior, and warmer near the ocean. Snowfall is always abundant, and Southeast Alaska receives the most rainfall. In the winter, allow for extra time to shovel snow and clear off the car.
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 everything is melting and thawing (and creating lots of mud). May is the spring month before summer begins again.
For a long-distance move to Alaska, there are three options: full-service movers, a rental truck or a self-moving service. The smartest way to move to Alaska is with 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 to and from Alaska, depending on the location and specifics of the 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).
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.
- If you’re flying with the pet, check these pet travel guidelines and the airline’s regulations for pet travel (see Alaska Airlines’ pet policy)
- If you’re driving, be ready with all the documentation for traveling through Canada with your pet
- If you’re traveling via the Alaska Marine Highway System, read the AMHS animal transport policy
Can I bring my motorcycle or snowmobile?
U-Pack can easily ship motorcycles, snowmobiles and other ATVs to Alaska. You can place this type of equipment into a trailer, ReloCube or ocean container, as long as the fluids are drained before moving.
Moving rates are based on several factors — such as where you’re moving to and from, how much you’re moving and when you’re moving — so prices will vary. The best way to determine how much an Alaskan 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 the price includes moving equipment, fuel, transportation, and liability coverage. 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. But you can get paid to live there — after establishing residency and applying for the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD). Read more about the Alaska PFD.
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 almost any need. If you want to attend a university, Anchorage or Fairbanks may be the best bet. But for 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.
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)
There are three main ways to get your family to Alaska: driving, flying or sailing. The best option will depend on your needs, but keep in mind that passports may be required to get there depending on the method of travel.
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 ends in Delta Junction, AK — 1,422 miles later. After passing 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.
Driving requires a passport because of travel through Canada. Canadian law requires all U.S. citizens to carry a valid U.S. passport, passport card or NEXUS card.
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 require a stop in Seattle.
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.
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, take a ferry in Bellingham, Washington. The boat will take you (and your vehicle) along the Canadian coast, to stops in Alaska cities like Whittier, Homer and Sand Point.
Sailing via the Alaska Marine Highway System (with no stops in Canada) won’t require a passport. But it will require a government-issued ID, such as a driver’s license.
U-Pack helps military members get 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 making a civilian move. But you may need empty and full weight tickets for reimbursement, and we can provide them.
Learn more about PCSing to Alaska.
Ready to Move to Alaska?
Call 800-413-4799 to speak with a knowledgeable moving consultant, or get a quote online.