- Dani and Evan Benton sold their farm and Airbnb in New Orleans and set out to find their new home.
- The couple first house-sat in Mexico for a year before moving to Japan.
- They bought a house for $7,500 and are converting it into an Airbnb and beekeeping business.
In the space of just three years, Dani and Evan Benton have moved from their urban farm in New Orleans to living nomadically and house-sitting in different parts of Mexico to finally settling in rural Japan.
Originally from Dallas, Oregon, the couple moved to New Orleans in 2016 and were married in 2018.
Evan, now 40, worked as a massage therapist, while Dani, now 39, was a self–employed photographer. They also bought a property that they ran as an urban farm and Airbnb in the Lower Ninth Ward.
The couple had $100,000 to set up a new life
In 2021, financial pressures and itchy feet led the Bentons to sell their home and travel. Thanks to a combination of savings and selling their home, they started their adventure with a little over $100,000.
Dani told Insider they considered countries where Evan knew the language and had reasonable immigration processes.
“We settled on Mexico or Japan for a variety of reasons: ideal climate, potential for our business, cost of living, housing prices, our desire to live more rurally but retain modern amenities,” she added.
They tried living in Mexico first
“Mexico was obviously much closer. We could drive our car and the cost of living was low enough that we wouldn’t be blowing through our savings very quickly while searching for our next home,” Dani said.
The couple drove over the border into Mexico on December 5, 2021.
Dani said the immigration procedures were straightforward — they just needed to file paperwork to extend their temporary residency.
What it cost to move to Mexico
The Bentons said they spent about $1,260 to gain residency in Mexico and broke down their costs:
US passport renewal for 10 years: $245
Temporary visas: $130
Temporary resident ID cards for one year: $405
Immigration lawyer’s fees: $380
Copies of documents: $100
And they spent about $985 to import their car:
Car insurance for one year: $440
Temporary import permit: $380
Internation driver’s licenses for one year: $40 ($20 each)
Dash-cam: $125 (recommended but not required)
House-sitting was a way to live rent-free in Mexico
The couple became house-sitters in Mexico so they could live rent-free and travel around the country.
Dani read about house-sitting online. She said it’s common for people to hire house-sitters in Mexico when they travel. “Within a few months, we had back-to-back sits booked for the foreseeable future. We could’ve continued pretty much indefinitely,” she said.
The couple booked about a quarter of their sits through www.housesitmexico.com; the remainder came through Facebook groups and recommendations from previous hosts.
“Our job was to babysit people’s pets, collect their mail, and otherwise keep their household running while they were away,” she said.
Some house-sits were easy, while others were fairly time-consuming — in one case, they had to take care of 11 rescue dogs and cats.
Dani said their temporary neighbors and the people they met in Mexico were welcoming and friendly.
Japan was their final stop because of cheaper house prices
After 14 months in Mexico, the couple concluded that Japan “would be a better fit for us.”
“The real kicker was property prices,” she said. The couple wanted to find a home with arable land to restart their farm business. “While Mexico’s cost of living is low, property prices are not ideal. And while Japan’s cost of living is higher, rural property prices are incredibly low.”
Evan, who had studied Japanese in college and spent a year teaching English in Tokyo, was keen to return.
They arrived in Japan on February 15, on 90-day tourist visas. After 90 days of scouting areas to settle down, they took a ferry to South Korea for a week and then returned on another 90-day tourist visa. They eventually purchased an “akiya” on the small island of Omishima in the Ehime Prefecture. Akiyas are abandoned houses in rural Japan.
After buying a house, they completed the paperwork that allowed them to get startup-business visas. The startup-business visa was only recently introduced for certain parts of Japan.
Applicants need to provide a plan for their proposed business and can live in Japan for up to a year to launch their idea. Dani and Evan presented their vision for a smallholding business with a number of beehives producing honey, a guesthouse, and Dani’s photography
It cost the couple $4,450 to complete the paperwork to settle in Japan; setting up a company required the assistance of a lawyer and cost $3,600.
The house cost $7,500 and the realtor’s fees were an additional $1,500. They estimate the DIY renovations will cost up to $24,000.
Old, abandoned homes in rural areas of Japan are cheap
Over the past seven months, they’ve been living in and renovating the house. They aim to have it listed on Airbnb by November and are optimistic about bookings because the house is near the famous Shimanami Kaido, a cycling trail of suspension bridges in Japan.
The couple already have their eye on another nearby abandoned building with surrounding land — listed for less than $19,000 — that they plan to turn into their own home.
Dani and Evan studied beekeeping in Louisiana, so they’ve started a honey business. One of their 10 planned bee colonies is up and running. Their goal is to have as many as 50 colonies active in the next four years.
“Each colony is approximately $150 plus $100 for initial hive boxes, so for our first 10 hives, that’s $2,500,” she said.
The Japanese island is full of friendly grandmas and grandpas
“It’s a simplification, but Omishima is an island of friendly grandmas and grandpas who were seemingly ready to take us under their wings. No hesitation,” Dani said.
“News spreads fast on a small island, so many people we meet have already heard about the foreign beekeepers moving in. We feel overwhelmingly welcome.”
For anyone planning to set up a business in Japan, the Bentons recommend hiring professionals for all the paperwork. The “investment is well worth it for sanity, ease, time, and accuracy,” Dani said.
What the couple misses about America
Both Dani and Evan admit there are things they miss.
“I miss people from the US,” Dani said. “We’ve been trying to maintain friendships and connections via video calls, and encourage them to come visit us.”
Evan said he hankers after craft beer, cheap beef, and proper tools.
The couple see Japan as home “hopefully permanently.”
However, they were adamant they never want to appropriate the cultures of where they live. “I wouldn’t dream of having any other perspective: We are foreigners here, appreciative, open, and curious,” Dani concluded.