11 Pros and Cons of Living in South Dakota

If you love wide open spaces and can put up with baking hot summers and icy cold winters, could this be the state for you? Check out all the pros and cons of living in South Dakota.
Written by James Ellaby
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
It’s the state where you can be arrested for falling asleep in a cheese factory and one of the homes of mashed potato wrestling, but is South Dakota a good place to live? It certainly is if you like wide open spaces, a low cost of living, and the quiet life, but the weather can be brutal at almost any time of year and your nearest neighbor might well be a cow, so the Mount Rushmore State also has it challenges.
If you’re thinking about moving to South Dakota, there’s certainly plenty to recommend it, but it’s crucial that you know about all the pros and cons before taking the plunge. If you like peace and quiet but also having the whole town know your business, this could be the state for you. 
Let Jerry find you the best homeowners insurance policy for your needs
* checking your rate won’t affect your credit score
Shop Now
* checking your rate won’t affect your credit score

Pro: Low cost of living

If you’re looking to save on costs, this could be the place for you. The cost of living in South Dakota is 4% lower than the national average and it has a cost of living index of 89.3 (compared to a national average of 100). 
Transportation is particularly affordable here—the average
car insurance premium lower in South Dakota
than the national average ($1,434, compared to $1,517). Also, the average cost of a home is just $239,500 (compared to the national average of $291,700), and average rent for a studio apartment is just $595, compared to $949 nationally
However, it doesn’t all work better here than elsewhere, with healthcare costs on the high side. South Dakota has an index score of 120.8 for health, putting it above the national average. So if healthcare is a particular area of concern for you, it’s worth looking into this and how it would affect you.

Pro: Tax benefits

If you want to keep more of the money you earn for yourself, South Dakota is a great place to live. Here you won’t be charged income tax, personal property tax or inheritance tax. 
Even the taxes that you DO need to pay measure up favourably compared to other states. You’ll pay a
4.50 percent state sales tax rate
, a max local sales tax rate of 4.50 percent, and an average combined state and local sales tax rate of 6.40 percent.
All of this helps South Dakota earn second place in the Tax Foundation’s
2023 State Business Tax Climate Index
. It also has a reputation as a great place to live and work—as well as an excellent spot to retire due to the lack of estate tax or inheritance tax.

Con: The weather isn’t for the faint of heart

Ok, it’s time to talk about some of the reasons why South Dakota might NOT be the place for you—and one of those is the weather. Some states can be too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter. South Dakota manages to be both of them and much more.
Let’s start with the winters. There’s a mean average low temperatures of around 10 °F, with the record low for the state being -58 °F. Winter can also bring snowfall of around 30 inches, as well as severe blizzards and ice storms, just in case the temperatures weren’t fun enough.
Meanwhile, the hot and humid summers can see temperatures rising to an average of over 90°F, often making it beyond 100°F during particularly long and hot dry spells. When it isn’t dry, you can expect thunderstorms with high winds, thunder, rain, and even hail. 
So, it can be really hot, really cold, really wet, or really dry—but rarely dull. And did we mention the wind? South Dakota is
one of the windiest states in the USA
and is often included in the states known as Tornado Alley. 
A less obvious downside of this near constant wind is that it can have an impact on how difficult and expensive it is to maintain your house. This is due to wind erosion and its Dust Bowl legacy of everywhere being dusty most of the time (apart from when it’s covered in 30 inches of snow of course)—you may notice higher
homeowner’s insurance costs in South Dakota
as a result.

Pro: Wide open spaces

One of the reasons why wind is such a factor in South Dakota is that it’s a state that is mostly wide open spaces. With rolling prairies where you can see for miles, it’s an easy place to get away from it all and lose yourself (in a good way) in its varied natural beauty. 
This is the
17th largest state by landmass
but the
5th least populated
, so unless you’re in the city or at a popular tourist attraction, there’s unlikely to be people getting in your way and ruining a nice view.

Con: Where is everyone?

There’s a chance that most of what you just read sounded like a con rather than a pro. The remoteness of much of South Dakota will appeal to some people—but it might horrify anyone who prefers to be in and amongst people. This is a state where there is
one person for every four cows
, so unless you enjoy talking about chewing the cud, you might find conversation hard to come by at times.
This can make South Dakota a potentially lonely place to live, unless you’re in one of the bigger urban centers. So unless you want to be self-sufficient, you need to think carefully about where you live.

Pro: Plenty to see and do outdoors

South Dakota is a state that has plenty to offer if you’re the outdoorsy type. There’s lots of American history out in the plains, including
Custer State Park
Mount Rushmore
(hence the state’s nickname), and the
Crazy Horse Memorial
, as well as parts like the stunning
Badlands National Park
Wind Cave National Park
and more.
You can even visit the
Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes
for a taste of Little House on the Prarie life. Then of course there’s the mighty Missouri River that runs through the middle of the state where you can paddle down it like Lewis and Clark.
Other outdoor activities available here include almost unlimited hiking trails and even
scuba diving around a town under a lake
. The wide open spaces we’ve mentioned earlier also make South Dakota a great place for stargazing out in the Badlands where there’s no light pollution to get in the way.

Con: Not much else to do

The downside of living somewhere remote is that there isn’t a whole lot to do, especially when the weather makes hiking or scuba diving unwise. Even the larger urban areas are still quiet compared to cities you might be used to from living elsewhere.
For example, if you like hanging out at a shopping mall, good luck finding one. You’re ok for nightlife as long as you don’t mind it being almost entirely centered around going to a bar, with almost everything else shutting up shop at 5pm.
And when it comes to the entertainment of a major league sports team…you’re out of luck there too. South Dakota doesn’t have one at all, with the Minnesota Vikings being most people’s chosen NFL team. 
At least there’s the
mashed potato wrestling

Pro: Seriously great driving

One major advantage to living somewhere remote like South Dakota is that you’re going to have a lot of fun driving. The odds of ending up in a traffic jam are slim in most of the state, where you can instead blast along almost empty roads with stunning scenery all around you.
There’s the
Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway
, which is a 70-mile drive that takes you around and through the granite mountains of Custer State Park with lots of sights, wildlife and even Mount Rushmore to take in.
Or you could learn more about the indigenous history of the area on the
Native American National And State Scenic Byway
. You’ll pass through grassy prairies with plenty of opportunity to stop at museums and cultural centers dedicated to the local Native American tribes.
South Dakota is also one of the states with the most liberal speed limits in the country, going up to 80mph on freeways. As long as you are insured and driving sensibly, it’s a state where you really can put your foot down on the open roads.

Con: Crime rates are surprisingly high

South Dakota’s low population and relative lack of large urban areas means that it’s a state with a defiantly ‘small town’ mentality. That brings a sense of community and belonging, and you might have thought this would also bring low crime rates. 
Surprisingly, that isn’t the case. While its sister state North Dakota features at number 18 overall for crime and corrections in the
US News rankings
, South Dakota scores down at number 35, and 45th for corrections (which ranks the criminal justice system through incarceration rates, racial equality in jailing, etc).
Its public safety ranking is a more reassuring 21st, but for a state with more cows than people, those rankings are concerning. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. The crime rate is 2,170 crimes per 100,000 residents, which is
15% less than the national average

Con: Low salaries

One major challenge when living and working in South Dakota is that it’s not known for paying great salaries. In fact, its median household income of $59,896 is way down on the list. It’s also even further down the list when it comes to mean wage, ranking at number 50 out of US states and territories with a wage of $41,800. That’s less than half the mean wage in DC.
Some of this is offset slightly by the better news we had about not paying income taxes and the generally lower cost of living, but unless you’re working remotely, moving to South Dakota might mean a pay cut.
MORE: South Dakota electric vehicle incentives

Pro: Good educational reputation

For a state that is generally quite rural, one concern you might have is about the quality of the schools compared to more populated states. However, South Dakota has a good reputation for its education system. 
In the
US News rankings, it’s in a very respectable 19th place
, ahead of California, Maine, and, yes, North Dakota. It’s ranked particularly highly for higher education, coming 8th in the country, while its pre-K12 ranking is a decent-enough 29th (still ahead of North Dakota!). 

Is South Dakota a good state to live in?

Yes, South Dakota is a good state to live in, especially if you love the peace and quiet of wide open spaces rather than the hustle and bustle of the big cities. But if you aren’t ready to endure baking hot summers and icy cold winters, then the Mount Rushmore State might not be for you.
South Dakota is a great state for: 
  • Outdoors enthusiasts
  • Families with high school students
  • Car owners and anyone who loves to drive
But if you want to be where the action is, this probably isn’t where you’re going to find it. Unless that action involves mashed potato.
handles everything from finding quotes to signing on new policies right in the app. No more filling out hundreds of forms! Thank you, Jerry, for helping my move to a new state feel hassle-free.” —Dolores T.
Compare auto insurance policies
No spam or unwanted phone calls · No long forms
Find insurance savings


Yes, South Dakota is generally included in the states that make up Tornado Alley—and it can get VERY windy up here.
In a word, brutal. It gets very cold in South Dakota in the winter time, with plenty of snow and ice, so you need to be prepared. Of course, if you don’t mind the cold, it’s also very beautiful, with plenty of winter sports to get involved with.
Not really, no.
Census data shows that 84.2% of South Dakotans are white
, with the next largest ethnic group being American Indians at 9%. There are only small percentages representing other groups. With much of the Native American population concentrated around the reservations, that leaves a very predominantly white population in the rest of the state.
Save an average of 18% by bundling your home and auto insurance
Bundle your home and auto insurance with Jerry and save!
Try Jerry

Easiest way to compare and buy car insurance

No long forms
No spam or unwanted phone calls
Quotes from top insurance companies
Find insurance savings