Life above the arctic circle may be a brand-new experience for some. As as a result, you should be aware of the differences from the "lower forty-eight" and all that comes with it.
The district currently provides teacher housing in all communities. However, Kotzebue district-owned teacher housing is only offered to new incoming teachers for one year and is based on availability. Teachers who do not stay in district-owned teacher housing they will receive a $5000 housing allowance per year. The rent for district housing ranges in price from $400-$1,000 per month and includes all utilities (except telephone, garbage, internet, and cable television services). Teachers are occasionally assigned, roommates. Teacher housing units provided by the district are furnished (double or single bed, washer/dryer, sofa, coffee table, dining table with chairs), but do not have items such as cookware or linens.
Pets are generally allowed in most teacher housing units (with a $500 pet deposit). Finding a place to live in Kotzebue that accepts pets may be more difficult. Before bringing your pet, be sure to check with your Principal or your landlord to be sure that your pet will be welcome. Please be aware that there are no veterinary services available in Kotzebue or any of the surrounding villages. Pet vaccinations may be available in Kotzebue at times, and a veterinarian from out of town does make occasional visits.
Since the region is located at such high latitude daylight levels, vary from season to season. If you arrive in June or early July, be prepared to cover your windows at night because the sun will not set. As summer turns to fall, the days gradually get shorter until December when daylight hours may only last for about four hours. Lack of sunlight may be difficult for some people. After December 21st the sunlight gradually increases again and by the end of March days and nights are about equal.
In Alaska, many communities are classified as wet, damp, or dry depending on the availability and legality of alcoholic beverages in the community. Kotzebue and Kiana are WET communities which means you can only buy from the municipality with a license and bring in a limited amount of alcoholic beverages for your consumption. Selling alcoholic beverages within the community, except by the municipality, is a felony offense. Manufacturing and/or distributing alcoholic beverages is also a felony.
While in Anchorage you may want to open a checking account. Most stores and airlines will take checks but not from out of state. There are no banks in any of the villages – the nearest bank is Wells Fargo in Kotzebue. Should you choose to use them, you may set up an account online or get more information by calling them.
Please be aware that many villages operate solely on a cash economy and not all village stores will accept credit cards. Getting cash can prove to be challenging! The closest ATM machines are in Kotzebue. Most village stores will accept a check as payment but will not cash a check for you. We encourage you to use Direct Deposit for your paychecks.
Living in rural Alaska can be expensive. Grocery items cost approximately 1.4 times as much as similar items in Seattle. Village stores contain many staple items but be prepared to pay high prices. Boxed milk may cost over $4.00 a carton (fresh milk is not always available in the villages), potato chips may cost $7.00 - $9.00 per bag. Fresh items such as fruits and vegetables are not always available at some of the village stores.
While we encourage you to support local businesses whenever possible, it’s important to know that most teachers have their groceries shipped in bulk quantities to the village from distributors in Anchorage. Many employees do their shopping in Anchorage for the entire school year! Even with the cost of postage, you will find food costs to be cheaper and the selection greater if you purchase your food in Anchorage or Fairbanks.
Amazon Prime is another viable option that offers free shipping, though the selection of food can be limited or just as expensive as a local purchase.
Mailing from “outside” to Alaska is expensive. You might consider shipping a few boxes of essential items (clothes and food to last you for a few weeks) three to four weeks before you arrive at your site then buy what you need in Anchorage or Fairbanks, and ship it within the state. Parcel Post is the cheapest alternative for mailing but may take a while. Priority Mail is usually the quickest. Be aware that any type of mail may take 2-3 weeks to get to your village Post Office from outside Alaska.
Always check the shipping policies to Alaska on any website you use. Some will NOT ship to Alaska. Be wary of UPS shipping unless you are willing to spend a lot of money. UPS ground shipping is not always available in Alaska, and FedEx will hand off to the USPS so you will encounter delays.
Again, Amazon Prime is another option many people use, though the two-day shipping found in the lower forty-eight will take about a week to reach Kotzebue.
Finding childcare in your new community for infants and/or toddlers may prove challenging. Most communities do not have pre-school or daycare facilities. If you have young children who will need childcare while you are at work, it may be wise to contact your Principal and/or fellow teachers who may be able to give you some leads before your arrival in the community.
Be prepared for cold weather above the Arctic Circle. Sub-zero temperatures may occur anytime between October and April. Strong winds can make the wind chill extremely cold (wind chills of -50° to -100° may occur anytime during the winter). A variety of clothing may be helpful, from the light summer to very heavy winter clothes. Modern materials are designed for the cold, and nothing beats Thinsulate or Down for excellent cold weather protection. It is important to layer clothing to help wick away moisture.
Winter storms and blizzards are common, but life in the region does not shut down when the weather is bad. Schools remain open in conditions that may surprise you. Temperatures can range from 80° F in the summer to -60° F in the winter. You do not need to purchase all of your cold weather gear before you arrive at your new home. It may be wise to wait and talk to fellow teachers before purchasing expensive items such as boots and parkas.
All communities have telephone service available to residents. To set up telephone service to your new home contact OTZ Telephone in Kotzebue. You may have to wait a few days to a few weeks for a technician to come to your village. To make inexpensive calls to your friends and family who live out of town or out of state, it might be a good idea to purchase a calling card. Your existing cell phone service plan is not likely to work in the rural region of Northwest Alaska.
While OTZ Telephone provides some cell phone service, GCI cell phone service works in the villages, statewide and nationwide. AT&T service has also improved recently in the region.
Cable TV is available from GCI, usually with no installation fees. Satellite TV is also available from DirectTV and Dish Network, but if you don't have access to an already-installed satellite dish, installation fees can be very expensive. This region is too remote to receive over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts with an HD antenna.
Broadband internet is available via cable (GCI), DSL (OTZ), and satellite (Exede). Cable and phone lines are already in place, but if you go with satellite, there may be an expensive installation if a dish is not in a place where you live.
There are no "unlimited" internet plans in Alaska, as bandwidth use is capped. This limits how much you can download/stream and when exhausted, your internet speed will slow to a crawl (though you can purchase more in "buckets"). The amount of gigabytes you are allocated is based on how much you are willing to pay.
KOTZ Radio operates in Kotzebue and broadcasts on 720 AM and 89.9 FM throughout the region.