Living in Alaska: Pros, Cons, & Facts of Life

For many people, living in Alaska is the dream. In some cases, it’s the expansive forests and amazing wildlife that call to them. In others, it’s the chance to live off-grid, explore a slower-paced lifestyle, or simply head off into one of the last unexplored territories that’s particularly appealing.

Regardless of why you’re considering the move, living in Alaska can be challenging as well as rewarding. If you’re wondering what it’s like, here’s a look at the pros and cons of living in Alaska.

Living in Alaska: The Pros

Free Money: the Permanent Fund Dividend

One thing that sets Alaska apart from every other state is that residents often get paid because they live there. The Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend gives eligible residents money based on investment earnings relating to oil revenue.

Every year, those who qualify get a payment. Most of the criteria are fairly straightforward. For example, you have to be a resident of the state for a minimum of one calendar year – January 1 through December 31 – before you’ll be eligible. Additionally, you have to establish a domicile, maintain a physical presence, and plan to stay in Alaska indefinitely.

There are also some disqualifiers, such as incarceration or a felony conviction during the calendar year the payment is based on, or being absent from the state for over 180 days without an allowable reason. Otherwise, residents of any age can receive the payment, including children, adults, and seniors.

Natural Beauty

Saying that Alaska exhibits a unique natural beauty simply doesn’t do the state justice. In reality, Alaska is home to 14 mountain ranges, each with its own standout features. Plus, there are more than 22 million acres of national forest land, 3 million lakes greater than 5 acres, and more coastline than you’ll find across the rest of the United States combined.

Plus, so much of the state is largely unexplored, and a significant amount is also considered uninhabitable. That means much of the state is completely untouched by people, allowing the natural world to reign supreme in those areas.

Amazing Wildlife

Just as Alaska is known for its natural beauty, it’s also widely recognized for its biodiversity. In Alaska, almost 1,100 vertebrate species are regularly found in the state. Plus, there are thousands of invertebrates – including aquatic, marine, and terrestrial – that also call Alaska home.

For nature lovers, this can create ample chances to observe animals in their natural habitats, often while also being undisturbed by the challenges that come with modern life. However, it also means your odds of chance encounters are also fairly high, as some species do come into towns, approach homes, or cross through private properties.

Outdoor Recreation

With extensive national parks and swaths of untouched landscape, outdoor recreation is incredibly popular in Alaska, and with good reason. Alaska is often considered a go-to destination for hunting and fishing, both due to the species present and the fact that you can usually participate without crossing paths with many other hunters or fishers.

Plus, it’s a favorite for various snow sports. Whether you want to snowshoe, ski, ice skate, or snowmobile, there are plenty of places to go and explore that hobby. Plus, hockey is highly accessible, with youth and adult leagues being incredibly plentiful.

During warmer months, hiking, biking, and boating are also enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. Pristine waters and miles of trails are all accessible throughout much of the state.

Camping is also incredibly popular. Along with allowing people to spend more time outdoors, there are plenty of private areas in the state that can provide a degree of solitude. For those looking to escape the hustle-and-bustle of city life or that want to disconnect, Alaska camping can be a dream come true.

Mountain climbing and rock climbing are also common reasons people come to Alaska. Seventeen of the top 20 highest mountain peaks in the United States are in Alaska, with Denali rising above them all at 20,320 feet above sea level.

Opportunities in Major Industries

For professionals in certain fields, Alaska is the land of opportunity. If you have a career in the oil and gas sector, you may have a far easier time finding an exceptional position if you head to Alaska. The same can go for timber and wood products professionals, as well as those focused on metal mining.

Seafood collection and processing is also big business in Alaska. Since the state is also a popular tourist destination, hospitality can be a surprisingly stable career, particularly in the more popular cities. The same goes for tourism-related entertainment, such as cruises, wildlife viewing tours, and fishing excursions.

Off-Grid or Greener Living

If you’re interested in off-grid or greener living, Alaska could be your perfect destination. For one, many people are highly environmentally conscious, working diligently to avoid the unnecessary tapping of resources or polluting the magnificent landscape.

For another, many areas in Alaska don’t have much infrastructure. As a result, people often use a homesteading approach when designing their properties or cultivating their personal lifestyles. Since that’s the case, it’s reasonably easy to find what you need – or connect with people with the proper expertise – if you’d like to do the same.

Affordable Real Estate

While prices in cities like Anchorage and Juneau can be pricy, there’s affordable real estate to be had in Alaska. Many of the smaller towns or rural areas come with much smaller price tags, mainly because they aren’t near many amenities or may be harder to access when winter weather rolls into the region.

Even in cities, Alaska real estate isn’t always as costly as in other major cities. For instance, Juneau comes in with an average home value (as of July 2022) near $459,000, while Anchorage is at $389,000. Compare that to Seattle at $985,000 and Boston at $744,000, and the pricing doesn’t seem so bad.

Low Tax Rates

Overall, the tax rates in Alaska are incredibly low. First, Alaska does not have a personal income tax. While you’d still need to handle any federal taxes, that one point can make Alaska far more affordable than some other states.

Additionally, sales taxes usually fall in the 2-5% range, which is far lower than many states. That’s especially true among the other states that don’t have personal income taxes.

Four of the 19 boroughs also don’t have property taxes. Plus, seniors and disabled veterans have an exemption for the first $150,000 of assessed property value. Even if you’re in an area with property taxes, that can help you save a bundle.

Native Heritage

When it comes to a unique cultural heritage, Alaska certainly delivers. Many indigenous tribes have thrived in the cold tundra for thousands upon thousands of years, each with a unique way of navigating the challenging landscape.

Plus, art and music are part of many of the cultures. While in Alaska, you can explore creations both new and old, allowing you to learn more about how life flourished in one of the most challenging environments on the planet.

In total, there are five Alaskan Native groups based on the broader regions, though there are 20 distinct cultures and around 300 dialects represented by the natives in the state. If you also move to Alaska, you can find out more about their ways of life, culture, and communities often with great ease.

The Alaska State Fair

While it might seem like a fair isn’t a solid enough reason to live in any particular state, the Alaska State Fair is different. It’s been a tradition since 1936 and calling it a major annual event really is an understatement.

Every year, more than 100,000 people come to the state fair for some fun in the August sun, making it the largest event in Alaska. It features 14 days of music, food, arts, crafts, exhibits, rides, and so much more. Plus, there’s the world-famous giant cabbage weigh-off, where often record-breaking cabbages are there for everyone to see.

Relaxed Lifestyle

Even in the cities, Alaska often offers a slower-paced lifestyle. People simply don’t fall into some of the chaos, possibly because they’re used to the delays. The weather can change unexpectedly, dumping feet of snow with little warning. Additionally, while Alaskan cities are well-equipped, rural areas can come with challenges that make rushing impractical.

Additionally, even larger cities in Alaska maintain a small-town feel. Possibly, it’s because most of the cities – aside from Anchorage, which is home to more than 300,00 residents – aren’t as large as you’d see further south.

Plus, many people that live in Alaska are there to pursue a dream. They aren’t focused on punching a clock or running from one errand to the next. Instead, they aim to enjoy their lives, causing them to have a more relaxed attitude in most cases.

Living in Alaska: The Cons

High Cost of Living

While housing prices aren’t always that far outside of ordinary and can be pretty affordable in some areas, the overall cost of living in Alaska is relatively high. One of the main reasons is that transporting goods into the state can be both time-consuming and expensive. As a result, most products cost a bit more in Alaska.

When it comes to groceries, prices in Alaska can cost some people off-guard. That’s particularly true in smaller towns that are hard to access, especially those that get effectively cut off due to snow and ice. Additionally, if the items are perishable, making them more difficult to move, the costs can be astronomical. For example, people may spend $18.29 for a carton of milk or $24.99 for a block of cheese in some rural areas in Alaska.

Healthcare costs are also pretty high in Alaska. In many cases, accessibility is a factor. Many smaller towns may have limited – if any – medical facilities. Plus, getting medical supplies into the state is costly, and the higher expense translates into higher costs for patients.

Finally, utility costs can be incredibly high in Alaska. One reason is that keeping a home at a comfortable temperature can be harder, as winters are cold and long. Plus, installing and maintaining infrastructure in hash conditions is difficult, which can translate into higher prices.

Transportation Limitations

While Alaska is beautiful, getting around the state can make a road trip far less enjoyable. The climate and geography make building and maintaining roads incredibly difficult, so there aren’t many major highways. Plus, some of them become impassable depending on the weather, so you can’t always use them even if they’re otherwise in good condition.

Similarly, while Alaska does have several major airports, the weather can cause trouble for air travel. That’s particularly true for smaller towns in rural areas where airports may not be manned full-time or maintained often or where the runways are little more than a stretch of pavement in an unattended field.

Train service is also limited, with most of the lines serving more as opportunities to enjoy the scenery than a way to regularly cross between cities. Plus, during the winter, many of the lines don’t run as often, and some may cease to carry passengers for weeks or months at a time.

Cold Weather

While most people don’t mind the occasional bout of cold, most of Alaska would at least qualify as chilly all year-round. Some people joke that Alaska has four seasons, winter, June, July, and August. Even during the peak of summer, daytime temperatures may only hit 55°F and may hit 70°F just a handful of times.

In the winter, it’s an entirely different story. Lows in the single digits are common, and negative temperatures can even be the norm in some parts of the state. You can stay below freezing for days – or even weeks – depending on where you’re located.

While long summer days can make cooler temperatures in the summer more tolerable, the amount of time you spend in colder weather is more than some people can bear. That’s particularly true when snow and ice are part of the landscape for months on end, making it seem like spring is never going to arrive.

Dark Winters

In a similar vein to the point above, the dark winters can take a toll on people who aren’t used to them. In Barrow, one of Alaska’s northernmost cities, the town spends essentially two months in darkness. While that’s an extreme example, even Anchorage, one of the sunnier cities during the winter, only gets just 5.5 hours of daylight on the winter solstice.

For some people, a lack of sunlight can trigger seasonal affective disorder (SAD), particularly among those who aren’t fully acclimated to how the seasons change that far north. For others, it may simply be frustrating or disheartening, potentially to the point of making Alaska a less attractive home.

Cabin Fever

With cold weather and ample snow comes more time spent indoors. While some may find it cozy, others may long to get away from the house, something that can be incredibly hard to do if you’re in a smaller town or rural area without snow-worthy transportation.

Cabin fever isn’t technically a medical condition, but feelings of confinement and isolation can take a toll. Some may experience depression or anxiety, for example. Irritability, restlessness, declining motivation, and hopelessness can also come with it.

Snow, Snow, Snow

Many people think that freshly fallen snow is a beautiful sight. However, if it doesn’t go away for months on end and, worse, more of it keeps falling day-in and day-out, it becomes a bit less enchanting.

For many Alaskans, shoveling snow isn’t just a winter activity; it’s part of daily life for one-third, one-half, or even more of the year. Just keeping vehicles, driveways, and walkways clear can be a challenge. Plus, if you have to commute or head into town for anything, you have to deal with driving on it, too, which isn’t always fun.

In the end, while beautiful, the snow can be a time-consuming, physically-demanding beast. Unless you’re okay with that, Alaska might not be your ideal home.

Is Living in Alaska Right for You?

Ultimately, whether Alaska is the right place for you will depend on your needs, priorities, and preferences. For outdoor enthusiasts who appreciate a slower pace of life and want to explore one of the remaining wild areas in the country, it could be a great fit. Just make sure you are comfortable with the higher prices, transportation challenges, and various other drawbacks.

If you’d struggle with the cold temperatures, dark winters, higher prices, or all of the snow, then Alaska may not be right for you. Instead, if you’re aching for expansive forests, you may be better off exploring the northern contiguous United States, allowing you to capture a similar feel without some of the challenges.