How to Move to Barrow Alaska

Moving to Alaska is a challenging and often expensive endeavor in general, and that’s when moving to Anchorage, by far and away the easiest place to move to in Alaska from another part of the world. Barrow (now called Utqiagvik, the original native name as of 2016) is challenging to get to even by Alaska standards, but it is possible. Moving there requires a lot of planning and a decent budget, but it can be done.

Despite some odd rumors on some online forums, people can absolutely move to and live in Utqiagvik. Getting there is a bit of a challenge, but with the right planning, understanding what needs to be taken care of to smooth out the transition, and the right resources this is 100% possible.

If you want to know how to move to Barrow, Alaska, then read on for your ultimate guide for how to get from wherever in the world you are now to move to one of the northernmost full-time settlements in the world.

Let’s dive in!

Aerial shot of Barrow area near the airfield from a helicopter. Picture is public domain, thanks to the United States Geological Service.

Preparing the Move to Barrow Alaska

No one should be surprised by the idea that moving to somewhere as isolated and far away as Barrow requires a lot of preparation to pull off well. This is a remote area even by Alaska standards and while a mainstay of The North Slope, that doesn’t mean there’s a lot of built-in infrastructure around it. In fact, there very much isn’t!

If you have a good job lined up, housing, and are looking for a little bit of adventure then don’t let the challenges prevent you from making the move to the great Arctic north. Sure, there are challenges, but these can be overcome and let’s face it: no move is easy.

The long and short of it is that for big ticket items like a vehicle, furniture, or major crates there are very limited times when shipments can be made into Barrow.

So plan well ahead of time. There are going to be bumps when moving to Barrow, and as much as moving requires smart planning ahead of time in even the best of situations, assume you will need more months to smooth out everything for that move to Barrow because once you’re there – there’s no coming back to smooth things out.

What Do You Really Need?

The less you need to ship, the happier you’re going to be when it comes to how expensive it is to move. The barge doesn’t come in regularly – in fact one large cargo ship comes in per year and the rest is by train, so the idea of moving a lot of furniture, a vehicle, and a full home’s worth of household items is something you’ll really want to think twice about.

Long-Term Storage of Sell?

If the job is for more than one year, and for a move to Barrow it almost certainly should be, you will have to look at storage options. If you are younger and don’t have many large possessions, it can be worth purchasing a long-term storage rental or packing up things you want to keep with family members. Shipping heavy items that can’t be packed in a suitcase or carry on bag is going to be expensive.

Also, while many people love Barrow and it’s a life-changing experience for many, not everyone stays long-term. Do you want to spend five figures or more for strenuous moving furniture only to find your new place cramped, and then have to do the same year or two later?

Many newcomers to Barrow (rightly) decide to come up to Barrow light on furnishings beyond the bare minimums and see how they settle in before deciding what to ship up to them, and what to leave behind. This is the smartest move in most cases as even if you stay long-term, after a year or two you may decide that you want to ship some things to your new northern Alaska home but other things you don’t.

Understanding the Shipping Options

There are limited shipping options to Barrow. When the big cargo ship arrives in late summer once a year is a big enough deal the entire town celebrates. While there is an air field, it’s not exactly an international airport. You will have a very limited number of shipping options for large stuff and if you aren’t used to shipping massive freight internationally, the sticker shock is going to be very real.

Because of that, you will want to plan and fully understand up front how much major item shipping will cost because for 95% of people moving to Barrow that makes a huge difference to the point of changing their thoughts on what they actually need to bring, and the other 5% tend to be two-suitcase travelers used to starting with a folding chair and sleeping bag in any new apartment 🙂

Prepare for Extra Shipping Costs

Shipping to Alaska is extremely expensive. There’s a reason that the USPS, UPS, FedEx, and pretty much any company that offers package delivery always has that “Except in Alaska and Hawaii” exceptions when it comes to shipping deals. Don’t expect to find many deals on shipping rates. Shipping to Alaska is the meeting place of “The company really doesn’t want to spend extra money for this expensive delivery” with “Hostage audience” because if you really need to ship something to Alaska…what other options do you have?

Just prepare yourself mentally and in budgeting for extra shipping costs and you will be more prepared for making the move successfully.

Account for Additional Needs

If you have limited mobility, can’t lift heavy items consistently, or otherwise have issues with moving that are going to come up when the actual physical act of moving comes into play, you need to look at setting up solutions to that ahead of time.

There aren’t any listed moving companies in Barrow, but calling the city hall asking if anyone helped new arrivals as a side job, talking to your employer about options upon arrival, or consider calling the multiple churches in the area to ask for help or volunteers. These are all great ways to get an early introduction and conversation with friendly locals while also taking care of those all-important on the ground logistics.

Consider Ditching the Car for a Four Wheeler

There are many reasons why using cargo shipping to get a vehicle up to Barrow really isn’t the way to go, which we’ll go into in the next section. If you grew up in the Midwest or South or in hunting country, there’s a chance you know how to drive a Four Wheeler. If not, you might want to rent one or talk to a neighbor who has one and learn before the move.

Four Wheelers are by far and away the most popular vehicles in Barrow. They work in all seasons, can give you mobility if you need to be out of town for a short time, and don’t get beat up as easily as cars in the harsh winters. These are still expensive to shift, but less so than a vehicle, and can be more easily bought once in Barrow.

Are There Any Movers in Barrow?

There aren’t full-time moving services advertised in Barrow, which makes it a bit more difficult to plan a move. There are relocation specialists in Anchorage who may still be able to help you if you’re moving from the Lower 48 or internationally, this is the best bet for support. Since most moves to other parts of Alaska still go through Anchorage, this is where the majority of across the state moving planners and specialists will be located.

They will be able to help advise the best way to ship, the specific challenges of getting things across the state, and will have the connections to tell you who to go through or what is best to move or keep behind. These connections are invaluable as every area has moving challenges, but Alaska even more so, and Barrow even more so beyond that.

There aren’t any full-time movers in Barrow, which makes sense considering it’s a small town without a lot of people moving in, and many going out whether for seasonal work, school, or moving elsewhere simply take what they can onto a passenger plane and buy what they need wherever they are going…where it’s much likely to be cheaper.

Last I checked, Helen’s Delivery Service was still registered as a freight delivery service as of 2022, however I don’t know if the services are mostly when the cargo ship comes in, if it’s large packages shipped to the post office, or if these services actually can be used to deliver larger movables.

Calling ahead to contact them is a smart move, as is contacting the city of Barrow to ask about anyone offering moving services. There might be someone in Barrow helping the occasional new faces move in as a side hustle or business and someone in the office would be more likely to know.

How Do Cars Get to Barrow?

Barrow is not connected to any other city in Alaska via highway, therefore to get a vehicle here you need to ship via freight in the summer or fly it in via cargo plane. This is understandably an expensive process, but if you want your specific car up there then those are your only options.

There are several garages in Barrow that handle not only car, truck, and van repairs but also snowmobiles and four wheelers which are the two most popular types of vehicles of local residents and a necessity for consistently getting around in winter.

It’s also worth noting that you may not want to take a car to Barrow. In fact, it might make a lot more sense not to.

This goes beyond just the pure cash savings from not shipping a car to the far north of Alaska.

The most popular vehicle used by Barrow residents is a four wheeler. This is a much more practical vehicle for such a remote town and since there aren’t connecting road systems getting around in town or renting a snowmobile for any out of town excursions (which are few because of the danger of polar bears and just there not being anything out there), and Utqiagvik/Barrow is small.

You could walk anywhere you wanted to go in town, so using a four wheeler is more than enough for what most people need.

Things to Know Before You Move

This list is an important one. Even those of us who loved living in Fairbanks because of the general isolation from other coastal communities in the state, a lot of us would hesitate before moving to Barrow. Visit? Absolutely!

But Barrow is extremely isolated and it’s important to understand some of the very unique aspects of the town that stands out as unique even to fellow Alaskans. Being prepared means understanding each of these important traits so you’re not blindsided when you are too far away from anywhere to do anything about it.

Barrow is a Dry Settlement

While there are cities in Alaska known for their serious winter drinking habits, Barrow is not one of them. The community voted to become a dry community meaning drinking, buying, selling, or even possessing alcohol is illegal. Fines can be up to $1,000. This is taken very seriously so if you can’t see life in a place where you can’t drink, think very carefully before committing to this move.

The enforcement of dry laws in Alaska settlements that vote for them is no joke and is taken very seriously. Don’t try testing this because it’s not just a massive fine, but considering how strongly the community voted for being dry, there could be a social disapproval or shunning for that, and in a town of under 4,000 in the middle of nowhere, in an environment as harsh as Alaska, anything that gets a cold shoulder from community isn’t a good thing.

Everything Is Very Expensive, Even by Alaska Standards

Shipping is expensive, regardless of how it is done and a lot of those prices need to be passed on to the businesses that then get passed on to consumers. Because of that Barrow prices tend to be high, even in comparison to other places in Alaska.

A sampling of Barrow Grocery prices in 2021…even before the giant inflation hikes of 2022 hit were as follows:

  • 6-Pack Krispy Kreme Donuts $14.99
  • Watermelon $20 (approximate)
  • 3.5 lbs of ground beef $29.34
  • Loaf of bread $6.39 for non-name brand
  • 3 lbs of bacon $42.25
  • $12.99 for a gallon of milk
  • Single pack of Ramen $1.09
  • Bottle of Ketchup (off-brand) $7.49
  • Totino’s Frozen Pizza $3.97
  • 24-pack of bottle water $27.96
  • Family-sized bag of Ruffles $17.99

Check out this great video by LeggLife on YouTube to see more! They do a full look at the main grocery and some of the prices are…stunning whether or not you grew up in the area.

Barrow Is Cold Even in Summer

You’re way north of the Arctic Circle, and it doesn’t get warm in summer. You get the 24 hours of sunlight, but you are still on the Arctic Ocean in the land of polar bears. Don’t expect to break out shorts and a t-shirt that often. High temperatures are often in the mid-40s even in July and jumping around freezing at night. The winter temperatures…they are what you would expect from winter temperatures though maybe not as bad as you expect if you lived in Fairbanks.

Of course that’s if “not that bad” can include temperatures commonly at -25 or -30, but you know, Alaska relative.

Barrow is some level of cold or freezing year round and not a lot of people can handle that, especially if they didn’t grow up with that as a normal thing.

Never Leave Town Unarmed

You are firmly in polar bear territory, and unlike other bears polar bears don’t feel threatened by humans. They are the top of the food chain, they know it, and people are just another potential source of protein for the great predators of the Arctic.

You should never leave Barrow with at least one high-powered firearm, if not two, and even then it’s generally recommended to always travel with 2-3 individuals, all of whom who should have powerful firearms that can handle a polar bear in a worst case scenario in addition to first aid materials, again, for the worst case scenario.

Prepare Mentally

Even for those of us who love winter, don’t mind the cold weather or long winters, and are perfectly fine with adventures, Barrow brings a new definition to isolation. It’s one thing to enjoy your privacy when in a city, when you can go to a nearby airport and fly out, it’s another living in a place that might only have one way out to anywhere a week, or even less dependent on weather.

There are going to be some down times emotionally, and knowing how challenging the place can be means you need to enjoy local festivities, be ready to accept invitations to houses when you’re invited over, and fight the urge to be a homebody if depression takes hold because it’s important to enjoy those social events and be a part of the community when special events happen or when people reach out.

It’s crucial to make everything work.

Enjoy the Adventure for What It Is

Barrow is an incredibly unique place, and going there for a season, a year, or multiple years is going to be an experience that just isn’t replicated elsewhere. While there are going to be plenty of challenges and many things that you give up to have that unique experience, embracing the adventure for what it is helps you work through rough patches and enjoy the things the community and experience can provide.

Keep that mentality and you will be much better prepared for every part of the moving process to Barrow.

Barrow from a Local’s Perspective

Outstanding video tour of Barrow from a resident who lives there.

Visitor’s Look at Barrow Alaska (Utqiagvik via Video)

Good visitor’s look at this northernmost settlement in Alaska.

Moving to Barrow/Utqiagvik Alaska FAQ

Even after this guide there are going to be some major questions about making the move to Barrow. Here are many of the most common ones, and hopefully they help answer any question you have left.

Can you live in Barrow Alaska?

Yes. There are rental properties, properties for sale, and construction companies that can build a home from scratch. Just in lesser numbers for rather obvious reasons. That said, you need to have a steady job and place to live because this is a very inhospitable part of the world without those things!

How much does it cost to live in Barrow Alaska?

A lot. Like a lot, a lot. The average salary in Utqiagvik Alaska from ranges from $72K-$93K which comes out to $34.62 an hour on the low end and while that sounds great at first, salaries need to be this high to survive based on the cost of groceries and basic goods since everything needs to be shipped or flown in.

Can I drive to Barrow?

No. There are no roads to Barrow Alaska. The only road going north out of Fairbanks all the way north ends at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, which also is not connected to Barrow (and you need a permit to go that far north).

How much does a gallon of milk cost in Barrow Alaska?

The most recent price I have for a gallon of milk in Barrow is $12.99 and that was before inflation hit in 2022.

Reach Out Before the Move

Things can change from year to year, so before making a move always take the time to reach out to ask for advice or help before making the move. If you have accepted a job, it shouldn’t be hard to get advice on who to contact or talk to before making that jump from the individual or organization hiring you.

If you’re being sent there, reaching out to the city office for advice is a great idea as at worst they’ll direct you to individuals and local organizations happy to help. Getting that support before you move to Barrow will go a long way to smoothing out some of the inevitable bumps when you move.

Relocating to Barrow/Utqiagvik In Conclusion

Barrow is one of the most famous very isolated towns in the world, and since everything is flown in that leads to a pretty wild setting.

Barrow is the economic center of the North Slope, a crucial oil and mineral producing part of the state of Alaska. Between oil, mining, tourism, and government jobs, Barrow is an important community with an array of jobs that keep the needed infrastructure and economy in place for the town to continue to survive.

But moving there is a challenge – and not something that should be considered lightly or on a whim. You’ll want that job lined up, the budget to make it work, and housing set up before arrival.

But if you do that, moving to Barrow can be an incredible experience that is unlike virtually any other adventure you are likely to have in your lifetime and can make any hassle of moving all the way to the North Slope of Alaska an endeavor that is well worth the challenge.

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