The phrase “Big Sky Country” justifiably conjures up scenic outdoor images, but Montana is so much more than that. From the beginning of the Missouri River to the final end of General George Armstrong Custer, Montana provides a wealth of natural resources and history for those who live there, as well as those who visit.
Although Montana is the fourth-largest state in terms of area — behind only Alaska, Texas and California — it ranks 43rd in total population. Clearly there is plenty of space; following are some tips to help make your move to Big Sky Country a big success.
- If possible, plan your move in the spring or fall. Montana winters can be harsh. Extreme cold and lots of snow should be expected, especially in the northeast, while summers can be very hot, especially on the eastern plains. In addition, in wintertime, you can run into severe fog or low clouds in the western part of the state.
- Most construction is done during the summer. Winters tend to be severe, meaning that most construction projects are done during the summer and can slow down traffic in some areas. Make sure to check with the Montana Department of Transportation to see if your route is clear when moving to Montana.
- It can be tough to find housing in Montana. If you are moving to Montana, it is a good idea to have at least a temporary rental lined up before you go.
- Cities often host festivals, rodeos, and other events. Check your local city’s calendar before moving to avoid getting stuck in traffic.
- Moving permits aren’t required in Utah. However, check with your new town to make sure your moving truck can be parked on the street.
- Montana is one of the least populated areas in the country. Plan accordingly when driving long distances; make sure you have a full tank of gas, a fully-charged cell phone, as well as plenty of water, a toolbox, and a well-stocked first-aid kit.
Change your address online. To make your move from California to Montana easier, consider changing your address online. It is easy to do, inexpensive, and will ensure that your mail arrives at your new home with you.
Cities and Metro Areas
Throughout Montana, most cities were originally built as railroad or mining towns, but have all developed into unique communities. Montana offers a number of thriving places to call home, such as Helena, the state capital; Great Falls, which takes its name from five waterfalls; Kalispell is the commercial hub for northwest Montana and is a city known as the gateway to Glacier National Park; and Bozeman is home to Montana State University and many college-related entertainment destinations. There are many diverse and interesting places to choose from. Be sure to check them all out before making a final decision.
Cost of Living
Compared to the US average, the cost of living in Montana is 6.29 percent lower. This is most likely due to the availability of energy resources such as coal, oil, gas, and water. The average income for a household is almost $36,000, which isn’t the highest in the country, but with low taxation levels in the state, that money goes much further than in more expensive states. In fact, property taxes here are comparatively low, which makes owning real estate and vehicles much more affordable than in some other states.
Home prices in Montana have appreciated considerably higher than the national level. Looking back three years at the typical home price in October 2019 compared to October 2022, prices have increased 61 % in Montana VS 35.8% nationwide.
As of October 2022, the typical value of a home in the state was $467,068, which is 18% above last year’s price.
Montana’s climate differs, depending on where you live within the state. The Continental Divide effectively locks more temperate weather in the western part. The eastern part of the state has a semi-arid continental climate, with less precipitation than the west. The northeast endures the state’s harshest winters, with severe cold, snow and ice. In the west, you will find milder winters, less wind and cooler summers. Be prepared to encounter fog in the west during the wintertime.
Average daytime temperature in winter is 28 degrees and 85 degrees in summer. Summer nights are generally cool. The annual average precipitation is 15 inches and the entire state gets snow, particularly at higher elevations, throughout the entire year with the exception of July and August. Average temperatures range from 84.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer to 28 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, but be prepared for extreme temperature swings at higher elevations.
Spring and summer are the worst for allergy sufferers, especially in the western part of the state where western water hemlock and western wheatgrass bloom. Check the pollen count before moving to Montana.
When moving to Montana with school-aged children, it is important to know that Montana does not allocate nearly as much to education as states with higher taxation. This has caused the state to rank as one of the lowest when it comes to educational results and teacher quality. Fortunately, there are still a number of schools that provide quality education. Current school rankings (elementary, middle and high schools), campus and district zoning/location maps, information and reviews are available online for parents moving to Montana.
- Elementary Schools: Three of the top-ranked elementary schools are Bozeman Elementary in Bozeman, Great Falls Elementary in Great Falls and Cold Springs School in Missoula.
- High Schools: Gardiner High School in Gardiner, Fort Benton High School in Fort Benton and Billings Central Catholic High School in Billings are among the best high schools.
- Higher Education: Students moving to Montana can attend a number of institutions of higher education, including Montana State University, Salish Kootenai College (a Tribal College) and Rocky Mountain College, a private liberal arts college. There are three community colleges: Glendive, Kalispell and Miles City.
Want to take care of important (mandatory) tasks before moving to Montana? Many of the items required for a move to Montana can be found online. Montana’s Official State Website has a lot of useful information about moving to, living in, and working in Montana.
Montana Government Resources
- Once you’ve been a resident of Montana for 30 days, you can register to vote in person at your county election office or online.
- The Motor Vehicle Division of the Montana Department of Justice regulates everything to do with vehicles. After moving to Montana, you have 60 days to apply for a Montana driver’s license, or 30 days if you need a commercial driver’s license. You must register your vehicle within 60 days of moving to Montana; costs vary per vehicle type and age. It costs $12 to transfer a title, but you might have to pay a $5 Montana Highway Patrol Salary and Retention fee and an optional $4 state park fee. It costs $8 to record a lien.
- There are no toll roads in Montana.
- Find your local United States Post Office online.
- Montana doesn’t have an excise tax. However, you may have to pay a county option tax if you buy a vehicle after moving to Montana. For more tax information visit IRS.gov.
- Trash and recycling are handled by private companies outside the cities, while in the cities, the Solid Waste Departments take care of it. Contact your local municipality for more information.