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 by comparison. As you would expect from a state so massive, living options in Alaska are far from homogeneous. 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 you need to live in Alaska depends in large part on which of the state's myriad lifestyle options you pick. Even among similar cities, towns and villages, the state's sheer size leads to wide cost of living discrepancies. Averages help clear the picture somewhat, but chances are significant adjustments need to be made to these averages based on your unique circumstances and, in particular, where you choose to plant roots in Alaska.
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. All statistics are from Numbeo.com as of November 2017.
Average Rent in Alaska
Renting a one-bedroom apartment in Anchorage, Alaska's largest metro area, costs an average of $1173 per month. Kenai, a small town, is somewhat cheaper, with an average rent of $837 for all apartments. The rent spectrum for rural Alaska is huge; supply and demand within a given region of the state determines how cheaply 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.
Average Utilities in Alaska
Alaskans pay some of the highest utility bills in the U.S., particularly during the state's protracted winter season, when not just the daily lows but the daily highs often fail to reach 0 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 $247. 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 in even more rural retreats such as Nome, expect to pay more to keep your dwelling warm. Utility bills north of $300 are not uncommon in Alaska's colder regions.
Average Food Costs in Alaska
Food is more expensive than average almost everywhere in Alaska. As a general rule, the more rural your location, the more you pay for food, particularly fresh fruit and vegetables. Transporting food to the state's more 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.
Anchorage offers the least expensive food in the state overall, though you can still expect to pay $4.19 for a gallon of milk, $2.89 for a loaf of bread, $2.04 for a pound of oranges and $6.38 for a pound of skinless, boneless chicken. In Fairbanks, a smaller and more remote city, prices are similar, although higher for fresh produce: $3.88 for milk, $3.89 for bread, $3.23 for oranges and $5.40 for a pound of chicken. The cost of a meal in an inexpensive restaurant is an average of $15 per person in Anchorage and $22 per person in Fairbanks.
Average 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 U.S. Public transportation is very limited even in Alaska's largest and most cosmopolitan city, Anchorage, so a car is practically a necessity.
Expect to pay between $80 and $130 per month for full coverage auto insurance; the premium varies based on your zip code, driving record and type of vehicle. As of November 2017, a gallon of gas in Anchorage averages $2.72 per gallon; in Fairbanks, a gallon costs $2.80. Both prices are higher than the national average.
Living in Alaska as a Student
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.
Living in Alaska as a Professional
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, which totals $2,350 per month. Therefore, a yearly salary of $30,000, which is $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.
Living in Alaska as an Unemployed Job Seeker
Unemployed job seekers face several challenges in Alaska. The state's unemployment rate, at 7.2% as of September 2017 (the most recently available data) is the highest in the nation and nearly three full percentage points above the national rate of 4.2%. Because the state is so small in population, jobs are few in number, though you also have less competition for employment. Lastly, 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.
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.