A Guide for Living in Rural Alaska

It has come to my attention that many of you visiting this sweet little space have questions about living & teaching in rural Alaska!  Even though our time in the village is up, I know our hard earned knowledge could help some of you, so I have gathered all my resources for you and have posted all kinds of awesome information here, on this page.  

We were located in Southwest Alaska in a village called Marshall
(see red star on the map)
from August 2011-May 2016
Our Adventure on the Web:

Grocery Shopping in rural Alaska:

  • Walmart (You can shop in person at this Walmart location in Anchorage & they will box and ship it to your village for you, or you can call in a list and a personal shopper will shop & ship it for you for a minimal fee.)
  • Span Alaska (We used Span Alaska to purchase our refrigerated and frozen goods twice yearly.  We got butter, ham, cheese, sausage, corn dogs, frozen vegetables, etc.  The more you order, the cheaper the shipping, so we always ordered with all the other teachers at the same time to get a group rate/lowered shipping.)
  • Mailbox Groceries (We used Mailbox groceries for our pantry goods and any bulk items we needed-- powdered sugar, brown sugar, salt)

Cooking in rural Alaska:
favorite recipes

  • Bread & Tortilla recipes
  • moose meals (to be compiled)
  • Josh's homemade pizza (recipe coming soon)
  • mac & cheese (recipe coming soon)
  • pumpkin muffins (recipe coming soon)
  • banana bread (recipe coming soon)
  • cinnamon rolls (recipe coming soon)

Free Shipping:

  • Target-- if you get a Target card (credit or debit,  you choose) then you get free shipping with all purchases online, plus an extra 5% off everything you buy.  This is how I got a LOT of big furniture (and rugs) to our house in Alaska.
  • Amazon Prime-- You can get many (but not all) things on Amazon with free shipping if you have Amazon Prime.  This is how I got a lot of my food items; canned goods, powdered milk, flour & sugar.
Alaska Airlines Signature Visa:
  • For a $75/year fee, this credit card will annually give you a "buy one, get one" ticket for only $99.  This saved us so much money because while we lived in Alaska, Wyatt was a (free) lap baby, and the twins' tickets were only $99 with the purchase of Josh's and my tickets. 
  • Using the card more frequently racked up points that we could "cash in" for gift cards or cash back.

Shipping via the United States Post Office:

  • Flat rate boxes (if it fits, it ships! for one flat rate!)
  • Shipping within Alaska is cheaper than from any other state in the US (in other words, shopping in Anchorage while you're there can save you a TON of money compared to shipping boxes from the lower 48)
  • You can ship odd items-- one summer we sent ourselves all the pieces of our Sleep Number Bed. You take it in, and they will help you figure out how to package and ship it.  I sent laundry baskets once, too.  We just zip tied them together and slapped our address on them.  
  • The only drawback is the dates are not guaranteed because weather and other issues impact arrival times & dates in the villages.  It generally took us two weeks (at least) to get regular boxes, and a week to get flat rate boxes.


*When buying gear, consider your environment. Will there be lots of rain or wind? Cold weather? Be sure to check for weather rating, I always made sure our things were rated at -20 degrees fahrenheit.  I also preferred wind proof & water proof, especially for gloves & coats.

*Most of the above links are for women, but my husband, Josh, wore the same brands.  Northface snow pants, Sorel snow boots, etc.

*Another note-- go for black gear. I bought white and it became very dirty and was hard to spot in the snow. 

(These are the brands we tended to turn to, but you always want to check for weather ratings)
North Face

Medivac insurance is a MUST

  • We used Apollo Medical Transport
  • In case of emergency they can transport you from your village to the nearest emergency room
  • It was roughly $100 a year for our family of 5

Pros of living in rural Alaska:

  • PFD
  • Good pay-- there are many jobs in Alaska, and they tend to pay very well to compensate for the extreme conditions
  • No sales tax
  • Only 20 years of teaching required to retire
  • Life experiences-- subsistence living, hunting, flying, experiencing a different culture

Cons to living in rural Alaska:

  • Little to no medical access in villages-- some villages have a small clinic, but for many things you will have to travel to a larger village or city to get proper care
  • Food expenses
  • Less to do (enrichment activities like movies, eating out or museums)
  • Can be depressing (lonely, dark, isolating...)
I remember how overwhelming the move seemed to me when I was eight months pregnant, had two year old twins and we were contemplating a job with the Lower Yukon School District.  Because of that feeling, I really want to be there for anyone else in that position. If you have any questions about the things listed above, or are curious about something I didn't cover, don't hesitate to reach out.



audrab said...

Hello... I am looking at taking job in Marshall,AK in the next couple of weeks. I will be teaching Special Education in the local school. I was wondering what kind of affect this type of move may have on my youngest son,who is now 14. He is in the 8th grade and we have talked about moving to Alaska since he was in the 3rd grade. This job kind of fell in my lap and it to me is an opportunity of a lifetime. I am just wondering if this is going to be a major culture shock on him that he will not want to stay? Thank you for your input.

Shelly Cunningham said...

I'd love to chat with you more in depth about Marshall. Why don't you email me.