20 Bizarre Rules Ex-Presidents Are Forced To Follow – Long After They’ve Left The White House

When a U.S. president is in office, there are naturally a number of rules and regulations they need to follow – in theory, anyway. But that’s still the case even after their term is over and the next commander-in-chief has moved into 1600 Penn. Yep, life as an ex-president is still pretty restricted – and in some bizarre ways, too.

20. There should be diplomatic trips

The commander-in-chief has plenty of responsibilities over the course of their tenure – including the maintenance of diplomatic relations. Air Force One gets a proper workout, too, with all this traveling. But even after a former president bids goodbye to that plane, the overseas trips don’t come to an end.

You see, past presidents are still looked upon as “goodwill ambassadors” of America, which means they’re required to fly around the world to aid international relationships. But they’re probably not put out of pocket, as each is apparently handed a yearly allowance of $1 million in order to do this. They can get hold of special diplomatic passports to boot. Well, it wouldn’t look good if the former leader of the free world couldn’t get a visa…

19. Two-termers can’t run again

Franklin D. Roosevelt will always be remembered for his New Deal and keeping the U.S. steady throughout World War II. You also probably remember from history class that he served for an incredible 12 consecutive years – all the way up to 1945. Yes, that meant FDR had four terms in office, but he’ll be the only president to achieve that feat.

Expert Mike Purdy told Reader’s Digest why, saying, “Up until Roosevelt, no president had served more than two terms. The 22nd Amendment caps an individual to being elected only twice to the presidency. [It] also provides if someone has served less than two years as president by virtue of ascending to the presidency due to the death or resignation of a president. They could still be elected to two full terms.”


18. Health benefits aren’t a given

Being the president is pretty stressful, as we can see from how leaders age so quickly in office… But the job obviously does have its benefits. There’s access to government healthcare, for one, as it’s pretty important to have the prez in tip-top condition. And this perk can carry over once their time leading the country comes to an end, although it’s not a guarantee.

Why’s that? Well, to reap the benefits of the healthcare plan for life, an ex-president must have worked for the federal government in some capacity for no fewer than five years. If a leader doesn’t make it to their second term, then, they may miss out. Pretty harsh, right?


17. They must stay at the Presidential Townhouse

Obviously, an ex-president can’t stay in the White House once they’ve officially been replaced. But have you ever wondered what happens when they drop by Washington, D.C. after their term concludes? Do they shack up at their former residence? Or do they find a hotel?

Well, the nation’s one-time leaders probably won’t be sleeping over at 1600 Penn. They’re much more likely to bed down at the secure Presidential Townhouse just down the block. The plush pad has been in service since Richard Nixon’s time in office, and apparently it found an avowed fan in George H.W. Bush – though not, allegedly, in his wife, Barbara.


16. You can’t use a phone right off the shelf

Former presidents aren’t typically short of a dollar or two, so you’d assume that they’d be able to get whatever cell phones they want. And while that may be true up to a point – as we bet the bills aren’t going to hit them too hard – they’re actually not allowed to purchase tech of that type on a whim.

Instead, the Secret Service has to vet any phones before past leaders can use them. Political specialist William S. Bike explained as much to Reader’s Digest, saying, “A president or ex-president is supposed to communicate on approved devices.” But not everyone obeys. Bike added, “President Trump ignored this rule and therefore consistently was hacked.”


15. They have a morbid choice to make

Although it’s practically a given that an ex-president will have their own library, this tradition is actually a pretty recent one. For two centuries, in fact, former leaders of the U.S. had no obligation to turn over any documents from their times in office. This all changed with the Presidential Records Act of 1978, which ruled such papers to be possessions of the U.S. Government – meaning they could be made available for public viewing.

If you want to sneak a peek at records from Jimmy Carter’s tenure, then, head right on down to Atlanta, Georgia. Big fan of Bill Clinton? Then you should take a trip to his library in Little Rock, Arkansas. But in decades to come, you may be able to pay tribute in another way. You see, every former commander-in-chief has the choice to be laid to rest on the grounds of their library after they’ve passed away. Clinton and George W. Bush have taken up this offer, too.


14. They must choose a new office

To say that the president has a lot to do would be the understatement of the century. Running the country is no walk in the park, after all. But at least they’re provided with one of the best-looking workspaces in the country. Yep, the Oval Office certainly beats a dreary cubicle!

After that, anything else would pale in comparison, right? Well, perhaps, but an ex-leader can’t command the Oval once they’ve left the White House. Instead, they must choose a new place in which to work. The Administrator of General Services is responsible for fitting this new office out, and it can be located anywhere in the country. That’s certainly better than nothing.


13. They shouldn’t criticize other presidents

Ever come across a co-worker you just couldn’t stand? We bet you breathed a sigh of relief when they finally left for pastures new. Still, next time you talk trash about this old employee with your colleagues, spare a thought for past presidents. They’re expected to hold their tongues when it comes to both their predecessors and their successors – even if the new prez is getting the country into a real mess.

Yes, there’s an unspoken regulation that former presidents shouldn’t speak ill of the current resident of the White House. It’s a courtesy that was first established hundreds of years ago. Not everyone is willing to comply, mind you. In 2018, for example, Donald Trump was on the receiving end of quite the verbal lashing by Barack Obama.


12. They can’t do what they like with classified information

The president will be privy to a lot of classified info while they’re in office. If anyone needs to be in the know, after all, it’s them. But what happens after they depart the White House? Are ex-leaders expected to keep that intel to themselves, or can they open up about it?

Well, according to Mike Purdy, the answer is simple. He told Reader’s Digest, “In what could be a huge breach of national security for the nation, a former president may not sell or share classified information he obtained while president.” Makes sense, right? After all, they’re secrets for a reason.


11. There’s always a Secret Service detail

It’s fair to say that the U.S. president is one of the most heavily guarded individuals on the planet. And we can certainly understand why. Keeping the leader of the free world safe isn’t just crucial for the country, but it’s also hugely important for international relations. Wherever the president goes, then, a Secret Service detail won’t be too far away.

And that level of personal security doesn’t just end when the president leaves office, as the U.S. government provides them and their closest relatives with Secret Service coverage for decades after. Interestingly, though, it’s up to the former leader whether they are guarded in this way or not. Richard Nixon, for one, decided to do without – apparently to save the authorities some cash.


10. Picking up mail isn’t that simple

We may do most of our communication electronically these days, but there’s nothing quite like a good old-fashioned letter. And that lovingly penned note from your grandma comes to you swiftly and easily, courtesy of your friendly neighborhood mailman or woman. But it’s not so simple if you’re a former president.

For starters, each piece of mail addressed to an erstwhile commander-in-chief is examined by the Secret Service. That way, any dangerous packages can be intercepted. And if you think that’s excessive, then you should know that both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton had dubious-looking parcels sent to them in 2018. They’re just the ones we know about, too. So, this complicated level of security is probably for the best.


9. They should receive national security briefings

During the course of their term, the president will sit in on countless national security briefings with their staff. But were you aware that they’re kept in the loop long after leaving office? Yes, ex-leaders are continuously fed information from those high-profile meetings right up until they pass away.

It’s believed, you see, that former presidents could provide some counseling and guidance if the current incumbent requires it. They’ve been in the role, after all, and so should know a thing or two. And this means they don’t always just ride off into the sunset when they wave goodbye to the White House. There’s still work to be done – even from behind the scenes.


8. They can’t break the law

As one of the most powerful people in the world, the president can shirk the odd law or two, right? Perhaps, but the same definitely doesn’t go for ex-leaders. They certainly can’t go about committing illegal acts without fear of repercussion – not least because they no longer have the government to shield them.

Mike Purdy told Reader’s Digest, “Like all other private citizens, a former president may not violate the law. If he does, then he is subject to the same prosecution as any other person. Not only is the president not above the law, [but] former presidents are not above the law.”


7. They get a transition stipend

So, you’ve just left your boring 9 to 5 to set up your own business? Good for you! Of course, making that transition is a lot easier if you’ve got some cash to help you along. And when the president makes way for their replacement at the White House, that’s exactly what they receive.

Yes, for around half a year, the ex-president will have access to finances that aid their move away from their former job. But this doesn’t just apply to the leaders who lose elections. Apparently, presidents who quit their posts in office get the money as well.


6. There’s the option of a state funeral

Just like the rest of us, presidents and former presidents aren’t exempt from having to plan their own funerals. Mind you, did you know that an ex-leader has the option of a state ceremony after they’ve died? It’s not a requirement – more of a final courtesy if their relatives give it the green light.

So, Ronald Reagan’s nearest and dearest did indeed plump for a state funeral after the Gipper passed away in 2004. And the planning for such an affair is remarkably meticulous and subject to its own rules and regulations. For instance, any motorcades reportedly have to travel along the road at exactly 20 miles per hour.


5. There’s no more spontaneity

Spontaneity is a very easy thing to take for granted. Without it, you’ll probably feel as though your freedom of choice has been stripped away from you. And ex-presidents have to deal with this very conundrum after leaving the White House. If they have Secret Service detail, you see, unplanned trips are off the table.

So, how do ex-leaders get around? Well, they first need to inform their protectors where they plan on going. After that, the team will analyze and inspect the safety of the area. But here’s the thing. Sometimes, that process has to be completed months in advance. We bet that’s often infuriating…


4. Military hospitals are always available

It’s always comforting to know that you’ll get expert care in hospital in case of an emergency. That’s one less thing the president has to worry about, as they’re able to rely on the White House Medical Unit – which is always on standby for such a crisis. How about the ex-leaders, though? Do they have similar privileges?

Well, almost. All past presidents have access to military hospitals should they require medical help. They don’t have to be veterans, either, as they’re given what’s called “Secretarial Designee status.” And that perk is available to former presidents’ spouses and young kids, too. Pretty nifty, don’t you think?


3. They have to take a lifetime pension

When we get older, most of us will be relying on our pensions for income. It’s no different for the ex-leaders of America, as the Former Presidents Act states that they must receive compulsory financial assistance for life. And, yes, they still get the cash even if they don’t exactly need the help.

This rule came about following Harry S. Truman’s departure from the White House in 1953. The ex-president had some serious money woes at that time, and it wasn’t exactly a good look for him to go bankrupt. No such fears for his successors, either. In 2020 the yearly presidential pension came in at a cool $219,200.


2. There’s a widow’s allowance

Sadly, many U.S. presidents are no longer with us. And, often, when a one-time leader passes away, they leave behind a spouse – a dutiful ex-First Lady who has to carry on as best she can in the wake of her husband’s death. At least these widows are provided for, thanks to the Former Presidents Act.

Yes, the wife of a late president will be given $20,000 each year for the rest of their own life. This figure is broken down into a monthly payment by the Secretary of the Treasury. But there is a small catch. The recipient will have to forgo any other financial supplement from the government – like their pension, for example – to be able to take this money.


1. They absolutely can’t drive themselves

We don’t know about you, but there are few things more relaxing than going for a nice drive on a summer’s day. But unfortunately for the ex-presidents of the United States, they can’t just take to the wheel and head cross-country whenever they feel like it. And William S. Bike has explained exactly why.

Bike told Reader’s Digest, “A rule created after John F. Kennedy was assassinated is that ex-presidents no longer can drive on open streets or roads – only private property. They’re required to be driven by Secret Service personnel who are trained in evasive driving maneuvers. Lyndon B. Johnson was the last who drove on the open road.”