Alaska is by far the largest state in the United States by land area. The state is so expansive, it makes other huge states, such as Texas and California, look tiny. As you would expect from a state so massive, living options in Alaska are far from homogeneous.
The figures below give the average costs of rent, utilities, food, and transportation in various Alaska locales. From there, you can determine how much money you need to live in Alaska as a student, a professional, and an unemployed job-seeker.
- Alaska, the largest US state in landmass, offers a wide variety of living options with varying costs.
- The average monthly lease amount for a one-bedroom apartment in Alaska's largest metro area, Anchorage, averages $1,225 per month in Sept. 2020.
- The cost of food and utilities is higher than the average for other US states.
- In contrast, Alaskan residents can enjoy lower auto insurance rates.
- Average salaries range from $3,000 to $4,000 per month in large metropolitan Alaskan cities.
Small-Town vs. Big City Living
Anchorage, the largest metro area in the state, and Juneau, the state capital, offer a typical mix of urban and suburban living. Climate notwithstanding, living in Anchorage or Juneau is somewhat similar to living in similarly sized cities in the lower 48. Alaska also offers small-town living in cities, such as Soldotna and Kenai, as well as vast expanses of rural living.
The amount of money needed to live in Alaska depends in large part on which type of Alaskan lifestyle you choose. Even among similar cities, towns, and villages, the sheer size of the state leads to cost of living discrepancies. Averages help clear the picture somewhat, but significant adjustments likely need to be made to these averages based on your unique circumstances and, in particular, where you choose to live.
Residential Leasing in Alaska
As of 2016, renting an apartment in Anchorage area costs an average of $1,135 per month. Kenai, a small town, is somewhat cheaper, with an average rent of $888 per month for all apartment types. The rent spectrum for rural Alaska is huge; supply and demand within a given region of the state determine how inexpensively you can rent an apartment or house. In some areas, rentals exist for $500 or less, while others feature a dearth of anything under $1,000 per month.
Utility Costs in Alaska
Alaskans pay some of the highest utility bills in the US—particularly during the state's protracted winter season when not just the daily lows but the daily highs often fail to reach zero degrees Fahrenheit. Certain parts of the state, such as Fairbanks, often see scorching summer temperatures along with frigid winters. This prevents utility customers from getting a reprieve on their bills during the summer.
In Anchorage, the average monthly utility bill is $265.85. Expect your winter bills to exceed that amount by a fair margin. Kenai winters are milder than in Anchorage, which is reflected in average utility bills that usually run 5% to 10% lower. In places such as Fairbanks and even more rural retreats (e.g., Nome), expect to pay more to keep your dwelling warm. Utility bills north of $300 are not uncommon in Alaska's colder regions.
Food Costs in Alaska
The cost of food in Alaska, especially rural areas, exceeds the national average. As a general rule, the more rural your location, the more you pay for food, particularly fresh fruit and vegetables. Transporting food to isolated areas is expensive, and this cost gets passed to the end consumer. On top of this, the state's climate is anything but conducive to growing most foods locally.
Overall, Anchorage offers the least expensive food in the state, though you can still expect to pay $4.14 for a gallon of milk, $3.38 for a loaf of bread, $2.45 for a pound of oranges, and $4.19 for a pound of skinless, boneless chicken as of Sept. 2020. In Fairbanks, a smaller and more remote city, prices are similar, although higher for fresh produce: $3.84 for milk, $3.21 for bread, $2.40 for oranges, and $5.75 for a pound of chicken. The cost of a meal in an inexpensive restaurant is an average of $15 per person in Anchorage and $20 per person in Fairbanks.
Transportation Costs in Alaska
Transportation is yet another cost that varies substantially by location. As a general rule, auto insurance is very affordable in Alaska, while gas is more expensive than almost anywhere in the US. Public transportation is very limited, even in Alaska's largest and most cosmopolitan city, Anchorage; so, a car is practically a necessity.
Auto insurance premiums vary based on your zip code, driving record, and type of vehicle. A gallon of gas in Anchorage averages $2.97 per gallon; in Fairbanks, a gallon costs $2.99 in Sept. 2020. Both prices are higher than the national average.
Student Life in Alaska
If you plan to attend school in Alaska, you can live there inexpensively by obtaining roommates and finding a place close to campus. The University of Alaska's three campuses are in Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Juneau; each city offers reasonable housing options for students. By splitting an apartment that rents for $1,200 per month with three roommates, your monthly share drops to $300. Your utility share, assuming an average bill of $200, is only $50. Living close to campus minimizes transportation costs, while a college student in Alaska should be able to live on a food budget of $400 per month. A monthly budget of $1,200 should cover your basic expenses as a student and leave you breathing room for emergencies and extraneous costs.
Working in Alaska
Professionals in Alaska need more money to live than students. For one thing, when you start your professional life, you are probably ready to eschew the college lifestyle of roommates and ramen noodles. Additionally, your entire life is no longer contained within the boundaries of a college campus, which means having a car, and using it liberally, becomes necessary.
These numbers are only averages but count on $1,400 for rent, $200 for utilities, $500 for food, $100 for auto insurance, and $150 for gas, totaling $2,350 per month. Therefore, a yearly salary of $30,000 ($2,500 per month) meets your basic expenses with a little breathing room, but not much. You can live a more secure and comfortable life in Alaska if you bring in an income of $3,000 per month or $36,000 annually. Considering the average salary in popular Alaskan cities, such as Fairbanks and Anchorage, is between $3000–$4000 per month, earning a decent salary and affording this basic lifestyle is not far-fetched.
Job-Seeking in Alaska
Unemployed job seekers face several challenges in Alaska. Because the state is so small in population, jobs are few, though you also have less competition for employment. Also, the state caps weekly unemployment benefits at $370. No matter how frugal you are or how well you budget, that is not enough money to sustain even a bare-bones lifestyle in Alaska.
The state's average unemployment rate in 2019—the highest in the nation.
A minimum of three months living expenses, and preferably six months or more, is recommended if you are moving to Alaska without a job. Based on the figures above for professionals, that comes to a minimum of $7,500.