If you’ve never been to Alaska, you might picture a barren land of snow and ice, otherwise known as the Great White North. But the truth is that Alaska is beautiful, diverse, and may be a great place to live. It has many jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities and taxes are a breeze.
But for all its awesomeness, there are some serious problems with living in Alaska as well, including brutally long and cold winters and way too much snow to move around daily during wintertime.
Nonetheless, if you’re considering moving to the state, here are 25 pros and cons of living in Alaska.
Alaska is absolutely stunning with a ton of reasons to move there. Here are 13 pros of living there.
1. The Midnight Sun
Most of us have never experienced a midnight sun. Indeed, when you move from the southern U.S. to the northern U.S., you notice that summer days are considerably longer. However, even though the sun sets around nine or ten, you don’t even get midnight twilight, let alone sunlight.
Alaska is so far north that the sun is still up at midnight during the summer, even in the southern portions of the state. At Fairbanks’ latitude, there’s no true night. You get a type of twilight that lasts for a couple of hours before the sun comes back up.
The midnight sun is fascinating, even though it’s literally just the sun in the sky. Being able to do daytime things at midnight is a lot of fun.
2. Friendly, Laid-Back People
Unlike much of the lower 48, where people tend to distrust each other and keep to themselves, Alaskans are open and friendly. This is due in part to its residents’ diversity, but also to the slower pace of life and the fact that big-city hustle and bustle just doesn’t exist.
If you’re not used to walking through an unfamiliar neighborhood and have people wave and say hi, you’ll get a lot of that in Alaska, particularly in smaller villages along the southern coast and in the interior, and in cities like Fairbanks.
They’re also not likely to get belligerent if you ignore them, nor are they prone to viewing you with suspicion about why a stranger is walking around.
3. Slow Pace of Life
Did we mention a slower pace of life? Even in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, the pace of life is considerably slower than in more populous states.
You won’t find many fancy restaurants where high-powered executives meet regularly to discuss business. You won’t see many overly fancy and expensive establishments, period. In fact, there aren’t many high-powered business execs living there anyway compared to the U.S.’s largest cities, contributing to the slower pace of life.
You will see several large corporate chains in Anchorage and Fairbanks, but they don’t do much to create the hectic life you see in cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The people are more about function than aesthetics in their daily lives, and that translates to a more laid-back lifestyle.
Alaska in general, and Anchorage in specific, have unusually diverse populations. That’s because of all the Alaska Natives there.
Alaska Natives are interesting people. They have stories to tell that most of the rest of us don’t have and have never thought possible. You’ll find that in towns in the interior as well.
Even better, you’ll see that diversity showcased in the form of intact cultures that aren’t white culture. And Alaskan natives are fun to interact with.
5. Small-Town Charm
Anchorage has a population of 300,000. Despite being the biggest city in Alaska, 300,000 isn’t very big. Juneau, Alaska’s capital, has just 32,000, and Fairbanks has 31,000.
Those three cities have retained much of their small-town charm, so imagine what the small towns are like. You have all the fishing villages along the southern coast, and while they’re full of touristy stores, they’re also full of unique establishments the likes of which you can’t find anywhere else.
Sure, many of those stores are boutiques, but you’ll also find some amazing hidden gems like antique stores tucked back in neighborhoods.
6. Entrepreneurship Opportunities
If you want to start your own business, Alaska makes it incredibly easy. You can file your articles of incorporation online and you’ll usually receive your ID number and other necessary paperwork within a couple of hours.
The best part goes back to small-town charm, though. You’ll have competition, but you won’t have much from the major national chains. That means your business has a much better chance of getting off the ground and thriving.
Alaska is rich with job opportunities due to its oil and natural gas industries. Even if you’d rather not work for the fossil fuel industry, there are tons of jobs in the fishing industry, allowing you to live and work in one of those appealing small, coastal towns.
Besides that, jobs in construction and healthcare are available, not to mention with the U.S. government and military.
If you’re a pilot looking for some unique opportunities, you can train to become a bush pilot. These pilots are some of the most skilled in the world because they’re the ones who fly supplies into isolated settlements in Alaska’s interior, which have no road access and no airports or even airfields.
8. Getting Paid to Live There
You might have heard a rumor that the government pays you to live in Alaska. That’s sort of true. You and every member of your family can start receiving an annual dividend from a permanent fund the fossil fuel industry maintains through the government. You have to live there for one full calendar year before you qualify, though.
9. No State Income Tax
Alaska is one of a few states that doesn’t have a state income tax. It also doesn’t have a sales tax, so you only have to worry about federal income tax. For some people, there is little downside to living somewhere with no income or sales tax. You keep more money in your pocket.
You do have to pay property and excise taxes, which is how municipalities raise their money. Overall, though, the total tax burden for the average American there is just over five percent. Compare that to other states, where taxes are often ten percent or more, and Alaska looks that much more attractive.
10. Gorgeous Scenery
There’s nowhere in Alaska you won’t find gorgeous scenery. The boreal forests are dense and green, the river valleys have magnificent hills and mountains flanking them, and there are all the mountains, including Denali in Denali National Park, the Chugach Mountains in the interior between Anchorage and Fairbanks, and more.
Alaska also has all those glaciers, which are awe-inspiring spectacles in and of themselves. Many have receded badly in recent years, but others have remained largely stable and a few have advanced.
11. The Northern Lights
If you’ve never seen the northern lights, pretty much all of Alaska is at a high enough altitude to see them regularly as long as there’s night. Many towns in Alaska are isolated and even the larger ones have very little sprawl, so it doesn’t take much to get away from “city” lights to see the sky.
When you’re out away from everything, you don’t just see the lights, you can hear them. They crackle just a little. This is a phenomenon you’ll get to experience many times while living in Alaska. Even longtime residents never tire of it.
12. Snow Sports
Most of Alaska’s populated areas receive anywhere from six to a whopping 30 feet of snow every winter. Because of that, you have plenty of opportunities to learn winter sports. You’ll find skiing and snowboarding in the mountains, and you can learn to hike in deep snow, go snowshoeing, and try cross-country skiing, too.
If you’ve always wanted to learn to snowmobile but don’t live anywhere in the lower 48 that lends itself to that activity as often as you like, you’ll get plenty of chances to do that as well.
13. Outdoor Activities
Alaska is wilderness. It’s a frontier. If you enjoy hiking, camping, backpacking, and more, you’ll never run out of interesting places at which to enjoy these activities.
You might think that the most logical location for such activities is Denali National Park. However, if you look just a bit closer, there are plenty of campsites all around the southern interior and along the coast, like the Blueberry State Recreation Site.
You can also find places around the perimeter of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. That nature preserve boasts the stunning Bagley Icefield; a large plateau of ice from which many glaciers descend.
Another gorgeous, desolate icefield is the Harding Icefield down near Homer. If you’re interested, some companies organize expeditions up to that icefield. You can camp right on that icefield if you like and learn how it feeds the Exit Glacier.
All is not roses and unicorns, though. Alaska also has some serious drawbacks you should understand.
1. The Midnight Sun
We discussed the marvel that is the midnight sun to those of us who live in the lower 48. However, as incredible as it is, it can throw your body’s natural rhythms way out of whack.
When living in Alaska, especially early on, you have to put strategies into place to trick your body into believing the sun has gone down and it’s time to start winding down for the night. If you don’t, you can go for 24 hours or more without sleep and not even realize it because of the midnight sun.
Also, fireworks during holidays like Independence Day get ruined. Like most places, they start their shows around nine pm, which means it’s still bright out and the fireworks are difficult to see and enjoy.
2. Long, Extremely Cold Winters
Alaska’s summers are fantastic, even in the interior where it can get surprisingly warm for such a high latitude. But summer is short, fall can start as early as the first or second week of August, and the winters are long, snowy, and very cold with very short days.
The average temperatures across the interior fall below zero degrees Fahrenheit and stay there. Along the southern coast and south-central part of the state, temperatures are colder than most of the lower 48. You need very heavy winter gear to weather the cold.
You also need an engine block heater for your car. Parking lots have outlets for you to plug into, but if you forego this necessity, your car won’t start because it’s way too cold.
3. Too Much Snow
Since winters are so long and snow is so ubiquitous, moving and removing snow becomes an integral part of your life. Even if you’ve lived in places like North Dakota, Minnesota, or western New York State, you probably don’t know what this kind of snow removal is. It seemingly never ends.
You’ll find the snow plows blocking your way to work, and the sheer cliffs of snow on either side of the roads create blind driveways and intersections that aren’t there in the summer.
4. Nighttime Forever
On the flip-side of the midnight sun is nighttime forever in the winter. Anchorage only gets five hours of sunlight each day around the winter solstice. In Fairbanks, it’s just a little over three hours. North of the Arctic Circle, you get about two months of night.
True night owls find this appealing, but if you’re any kind of a daytime person, learning to cope with that much darkness might be a challenge for you. If you’re moving to Barrow Point or Prudhoe Bay, you’ll have two months straight of nighttime along with two months straight of daylight to which to adapt.
5. High Cost of Living
Despite Alaska’s very low population, a situation that tends to lend itself to a lower cost of living, the cost of living in Alaska is higher than much of the rest of the U.S. There’s no easy way to bring necessities to the state, and you have massive heating costs in the winter.
Add the isolation of the entire state, and you’ve got a recipe for high prices across entire market segments.
6. High Gas Prices
You’re probably aware of the Alaska pipeline, the ongoing oil extraction at Prudhoe Bay, and other drilling operations in the state. How can gas prices be high?
Alaska itself doesn’t have any major refineries. Due to that and other factors, including high demand and low supply, fuel costs are significantly higher there than they are in the lower 48.
7. Disconnected from the Lower 48
Look on a map and see where Alaska is. Then look at a road map and see how easy it isn’t to drive to and from Alaska. Flying there is expensive, too.
The two big contributing factors to its isolation are its geographic location and its wilderness. Even in populated areas, you’re isolated from others depending on where you live. If you’ve got friends and family in the lower 48, or anywhere else in the world for that matter, you’ll have a hard time seeing them.
8. No Big City Life
Alaska might not be a good choice for you if you love big-city life. Anchorage doesn’t have much of it, and good luck finding it in Fairbanks, Valdez, or anywhere else, especially in the interior.
Also, remember that the pace of life is slower there, so there’s a lot less hustle and bustle. People who thrive in those environments might be bored to tears in Alaska.
9. The Ring of Fire
The Ring of Fire is where the Pacific tectonic plate meets other tectonic plates, and it’s constantly shifting. It surrounds the entire Pacific plate, causing earthquakes and volcanic eruptions everywhere. You can find elements of the Ring of Fire all over the Pacific Northwest, including the Cascade Mountains and the San Andreas fault.
Since Alaska is also part of the Ring of Fire, it’s prone to some serious earthquakes. It also suffers volcanic eruptions, particularly along the Aleutian Islands chain. There’s a string of volcanoes extending from there into the southern interior of the state along a curved line, and most of those volcanoes are either active or dormant.
10. Large Wildfires in the Interior
Most of Alaska operates under a “let burn” policy, meaning if a wildfire isn’t threatening any towns or settlements, they simply let it burn until it burns itself out. The results in completely burned-out forests, but it’s necessary for the state’s delicate ecosystem.
They might not seem like a big deal if you’re going to live in a populated area, but the opposite is true, especially in places like the Tanana River Valley around Fairbanks. The wind blows smoke from the fires into valleys in the interior, where it settles and stays.
Anyone considering a move to Alaska should take that into account. The smoke is so heavy sometimes that people need to wear masks or scarves over their faces and limit their outdoor exposure.
11. Wildlife is Sometimes Problematic
Alaska has a ton of wildlife, including big animals like bears and moose. Bears usually aren’t a problem for people living in cities, but while you’re exploring, you will run into them and they aren’t always friendly.
Moose might seem like animals that mind their own business, and for the most part, they do. The problem is that moose are huge. When they get agitated, they can become very dangerous. On the road, they can cause severe damage to your vehicle. Having a moose standing on your driveway is an acceptable excuse for being late to or missing work.
While you’re out hiking, you might encounter moose as well as bears. Be careful around both.
12. Self-Employment Is Complicated
You can be an entrepreneur in Alaska easily enough, but you can’t be self-employed. Alaska state law requires you to register as a business before you can work for yourself, meaning you have to file a business application, your articles of incorporation, and more.
The same is true for freelancers. You can’t be a freelancer for anything in Alaska. You must incorporate as a business, even if you’re a single-person entity.
Even though the incorporation process is easy, it means you can’t declare yourself self-employed even if that’s what you are.
If you know what you’re getting into, Alaska is a fantastic place to live. It has so much to offer, including the sheer beauty of glaciers and icefields, snow activities, and outdoor activities.
Most of all, it has lots of job and entrepreneurship opportunities, helping ensure that you won’t move there for nothing. The lack of income and sales taxes are great, too, especially if you’re someone who thinks taxes are too high.
It has some serious drawbacks, too, which is why you should know what you’re facing as you move up there. If you’re thinking about it seriously, weigh your options well.