Regarding relocating to Alaska, I would like to add a few points:
- Getting in and out of Alaska – If you have a stockpile of ammunition, you will not be able to just take it with you to Alaska. You can bring a small amount in checked baggage if you fly in. Otherwise, you will have to resupply when you get there. Fortunately, that is not a difficult thing to do, but you will have to settle for whatever is on the shelves at the stores at the price they are asking, or what they will order for you. You can’t just order it from Cheaper than Dirt, or Natchez, or any other bulk supplier. Moving household goods using a shipper is not inexpensive either. Expect to pay a premium for the service. The Alcan Highway is not paved and only marginally maintained, so if you pack your own pack it well. In my last shipment in/out of Alaska, 80% of the boxes/totes were smashed, and I will be filing a rather large claim for damages. Some of that stuff cannot be easily replaced.
- Stockpiling food – Expect to pay up to 50% more per unit for bulk foods, such as whole grains, legumes, salt, sugar, dairy, et cetera. Most of the supplies coming into the state come by barge service from Seattle. Last year one of the barges was taken out of service for repairs, and the store shelves started getting bare. Most of the mail order suppliers either don’t ship to Alaska or require a premium to do so. (Forget about all those free shipping offers if you live in AK.) Most of the seafood taken from Alaska waters is transported to the lower 48 for processing and then brought back, so the price for seafood is just as marked up as everything else. If you don’t have a decent boat or private land along the rivers, don’t expect to do a lot of inexpensive harvesting of seafood yourself. Boats and the maintenance thereof is not inexpensive either, and it’s even moreso up north. Public land to legally hunt moose on is not easy access and often over-hunted. Caribou move constantly at a human running speed and cover a lot of terrain. You have to be ahead of the herd if you want to have a chance, and again the hunting pressure is fairly heavy unless you move dozens of miles off past the end of the road, where you had to leave your rig. You don’t just get to drive up to the herd and take a shot, even with ORVs.
- Fuel – Gas will always cost more in Alaska than in the lower 48. Expect to pay 10-25% more per gallon. Road maintenance is pretty lean, so wear and tear is also going to cost you more.
- Housing – Around Anchorage (including the Mat-Su Valley), real estate is at a premium due to urban growth boundaries and a serious lack of development. Despite the fact that thousands were laid off from the oil fields over the past 18 months, housing costs are still at a premium. A <2,000 sq ft house in good condition will rent for $2,000 a month in the valley and $2,500+ in Anchorage city limits, if you can find a place.
- Employment – With the turn down of oil field employment, any decent job in town is likely already filled. Unless you can bring your work with you to Alaska, it will be exceedingly difficult to find gainful employment any time soon. Prior to being laid off in May of last year, I was making $120k a year average for the past decade. When I got hired at a native corporation last November, I was one of five candidates. When I left in June, there were 43 well-qualified candidates looking to replace me for a job making $18/hour. With a $1,800/mo mortgage and relatively high utility and transport costs, I was just breaking even every month. I know of a few engineers/union workers who had to take jobs at retail stores and such because they had kids in school, a house payment, and couldn’t take work abroad now. Unless you are already independently wealthy or have a steady income stream established, you aren’t going to be able to get by making any less than $40k a year. After having looked for work up there for the better part of six months, I can tell you there aren’t a lot of jobs that will pay even that well. I got lucky.
- State revenue restructuring – The PFD, or as I call it the residence handout the state gives to people who jump through all their hoops, got gutted this year. People who were expecting $2k will be getting just a little over $1k, and it will likely continue to fall. That said, the state is seriously considering implementing both a state income tax and a state sales tax. They are billions in debt and have shown no real intention of cutting their spending yet, so if you move there now, you will be helping to pay off that debt for the foreseeable future.
- Retreat potential – There is still a lot of land in Alaska that can be had for a decent price. Most of it is only accessible by plane in the summer, and snow machine (or dogsled) in the winter. If you want land with reasonable access, the price goes up quick. Arable land is not as available. Where I live, you would have to truck in a sizable amount of decent topsoil to create a garden. If you love rhubarb and cabbage, it will grow incredibly well. Tomatoes, squash, and legumes are much more problematic. Strawberries do okay, if you can keep the critters out of them. You can forget about fruit trees. Barley will only grow marginally well in a few locations. Hay grass does okay but alfalfa not so much. In most places people build retreats, crops are limited. You can subsist if you work hard, hunt and fish vigorously (assuming you can find places to do so), and can enjoy having a limited palate. Fishing on river banks on most popular fish runs is combat fishing. Hunting for moose and caribou requires a serious investment in time and equipment, as well as networking. I am an avid hunter, and in my four years there, I got to go hunting on two separate weekends and came back empty handed. Either I didn’t have the time necessary or the funds or a suitable location picked out. I got to catch my limit on halibut a few times, only because I got really lucky to be invited along on someone else’s trip for free.
Moving to Alaska and trying to make a living there can be a challenge. It does have its rewards, but you need to be realistic about your expectations. For the vast majority who go up there, it is expensive, requires more than the usual compromise, and does not afford as many opportunities to “get out into it” as one would like. It can still be an enjoyable experience, but it can also beat you down in ways you won’t likely experience in the lower 48. I had to go back to the lower 48 to find decent work again, but I am keeping my house in the valley, as I consider Alaska my “home” now, even if the state doesn’t. – B.P.