What Life After The Presidency Is Really Like

While in office, there are countless rules and regulations that the president must follow for their safety and the country’s safety. Yet, upon leaving office, thanks to the Former Presidents Act of 1958, there are still a number of rules they have to follow– and some perks, too!

They Must Establish A Presidential Library

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FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

If you’ve ever noticed that there are a number of libraries across the country named after presidents, that’s because it’s a law. The 1955 Presidential Libraries act made it so that each retired president would oversee the construction and completion of a library in their name.

However, these aren’t just any public library; they contain everything the president has ever written, with the exception of classified material. The president is also not allowed to dictate what goes in the library, as anything created by the president during his term is considered public property.

They Are Offered Lifetime Secret Service Protection

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Ian Waldie/Getty Images
Ian Waldie/Getty Images

Although they have left office, any former president is still a high-profile target for would-be attackers. To ensure their safety, the Former Presidents Act of 1958 guarantees lifelong protection by the Secret Service.

This includes the former president, their spouse, and any of their children until they reach the age of 16. Yet, the Secret Service isn’t forced on the former president, as they can dismiss their security at any time, as Richard Nixon did around 11 years after leaving office.

They Can’t Drive On Public Roads

Picture of George Bush
Eric Draper/White House/Getty Images
Eric Draper/White House/Getty Images

While in office, the president is never allowed to be behind the wheel of a vehicle, especially on a public road. The risk is far too great in the case of an attack or a car accident, which is why they travel in armored motorcades wherever they go.

Unsurprisingly, after they retire from the presidency, if they keep their Secret Service detail, which many of them do, they still aren’t allowed to drive. That job goes to their trained Secret Service driver. Yet, they are allowed to drive on their own property such as George W. Bush on his ranch.

They Can Return To (Some) Level of Normality

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BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

When serving as president, the individuals’ lives and that of their family’s drastically changes. Suddenly, they can no longer do things they used to love, especially if it involves going out in public.

But after leaving office, they are once again allowed to go to restaurants, public golf courses, movie theaters, whatever. Barack Obama was a particular fan of this saying, “It’s wonderful to be able to control your day in a way that you just can’t as president.”

They Have A Guaranteed Income

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Bachrach/Getty Images
Bachrach/Getty Images

Before 1958, former presidents were basically on their own in terms of their finances, although that’s not the case today. During Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency, the former president received a lifetime pension of $25,000, which equates to around $250,000 in today’s money.

Essentially, the pension is equal to that of the salary of an Executive Level I employee, which was $219,200 as of 2020. This pension is even guaranteed to presidents that resign, although is not given to any that are impeached.

They Can Receive Daily Security Briefings

Picture of Ronald Reagan
Michael Evans/The White House/Getty Images
Michael Evans/The White House/Getty Images

For former presidents that want to stay in the loop, they still have access to confidential information from the country’s intelligence services. This means that they can receive the same national security briefing that is presented to the current president each day.

But there is a catch. The former president is only allowed access to these briefings involving domestic and foreign matters if the current president says it’s okay. Out of courtesy. it’s rare for the commander in chief to deny this to a former president.

All Of Their Old Communications Are Available To The Public

Picture of Jimmy Carter
Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Following the Watergate Scandal during Richard Nixon’s administration, the Presidential Records Act of 1978 was passed. This made it, so every piece of official communication made by the president during their term is kept, archived, and then made available to the public five years after they have left office.

Since 2014, the law has also included electronic communications for anything related to the position, which is why current presidents don’t have personal or private email accounts.

Not All Get Free Healthcare

Picture of Obama
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Unbelievably, not all former presidents qualify for lifetime government health insurance. For some reason, this benefit is only granted to individuals that have spent at least five years as federal employees.

So, any president who only served one presidency and had no other time as a federal employee has to pay for their own health care like everyone else after leaving office. So, it pays to be a federal employee for more than just one term as president.

No Running For A Third Term

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Pascal Le Segretain/amfAR/Getty Images for amfAR
Pascal Le Segretain/amfAR/Getty Images for amfAR

If a president manages to serve two terms, by the time they leave office, it’s unlikely they have any more energy for a third term. But they don’t have to worry about it because presidents are denied by law from serving any more than two terms.

After President Franklin D. Roosevelt won for the third time in 1940 and a fourth in 1944, the 22nd Amendment was ratified to stop any president from serving any more than two terms. If a president only serves one, however, they can run again for re-election at any time.

Their Electronic Devices Are Far From Personal

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Charles Ommanney/Getty Images
Charles Ommanney/Getty Images

Although they no longer have to worry about their phone conversations being recorded as the current president does, they still have some restrictions when it comes to their electronic devices.

Even after they retire, former presidents have to have all of their electronic devices approved by the secret service ranging from their computers to their “personal” phones. So, you won’t see any former presidents standing in line waiting to pick up the newest iPhone anytime soon.

They Can’t Run For Vice President

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PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images

If a president has already served two terms, under the 22nd Amendment, they are not allowed to hold the position of vice president. This is because the vice president is the direct successor to the president.

If something were to happen to the president, the vice president would take the position. Still, if the current vice president had already served two terms as commander in chief, they would be violating the law that someone can’t serve more than two terms as president of the country.

They Don’t Recieve Legal Privileges

Picture of Gerald Ford
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

While in office, the president has such immense power that they can pardon anyone for a federal offense. In some situations, they could arguably even pardon themselves if they were to commit a crime while president.

Unfortunately for presidents, this privilege is stripped away from them the moment they leave office, and they have the same basic legal rights as any other citizen. While that’s how it’s supposed to work, many former presidents still have friends in high places that could help them out if need be.

They Are Encouraged To Stay In The Presidential Townhome

George Bush
David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images
David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images

Former presidents don’t necessarily have to stay in the Presidential Townhome in Washington DC, although it is highly encouraged. Just a two-minute walk from the White House, the townhome is located at 716 Jackson Place that was purchased by the government in the 1950s and became a regular place for former presidents to stay under Richard Nixon’s administration.

The primary reason why ex-presidents are encouraged to stay here is that it has rooms in the basement for Secret Service agents.

They Keep A Staff

Picture of Bill Clinton
JOYCE NALTCHAYAN/AFP via Getty Images
JOYCE NALTCHAYAN/AFP via Getty Images

While in the Oval Office, the president has a staff of around 400 people with a budget of approximately $40 million to pay them all. Many former presidents also keep a staff when they leave office, although it’s nowhere near the same size.

Funded by taxpayers, former presidents are allotted $96,000 to fund a staff, and anything over that they have to pay for out of pocket. So, a former president’s staff tends to be much smaller and tight-knit.

They Have To Keep The Nation’s Secrets

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David Hume Kennerly via Bank of America/Getty Images
David Hume Kennerly via Bank of America/Getty Images

Once out of office, the former president has a huge responsibility which is to keep the nation’s secrets from anyone and everyone. They know things that only a few people in the world may know, and it’s their job to keep t that way.

As presidents, they have the ability to declassify any information they wish to share, but as a former president, it is illegal for them to share any classified information they may have learned.

They Can’t Be Spontaneous

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Rick Wilking/Liaison
Rick Wilking/Liaison

If you like to fly by the seat of your pants, becoming president might not be the best thing for you, even after your term. To do just about anything, the Secret Service needs to be informed and have an itinerary of the former president’s day to coordinate security.

Plus, for any public outings, the Secret Service needs to be notified well in advance to scout the location and set a perimeter. Unfortunately, if a former president’s plan doesn’t seem safe, they might not be allowed to do it.

They Are Expected To Represent The United States Abroad

Picture of Reagan
Anwar Hussein/Getty Images
Anwar Hussein/Getty Images

After passing the torch to the next president, former presidents typically don’t just go home and put their feet up. In fact, they’re expected to travel around the world and represent the United States abroad.

To do so, the former commander in chief is given a $1 million budget in taxpayer dollars to travel, with their spouse also receiving $500,000. They are also are gifted with a diplomatic passport, which makes traveling much more convenient.

They Try To Be Civil Regarding The Current President

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David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images
David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images

Although it’s not an official law or rule, one longstanding tradition of the presidency is that former presidents do not criticize each other or those in office. It’s expected that they try to be as civil as possible when speaking in public about their successors as a sign of respect.

However, in recent years, this has more or less fallen by the wayside. Some presidents that have openly spoken out against their successors include Theodore Roosevelt, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter.

Their Mail Is Monitored

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PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images

Considering that they are such a high-risk target, it’s no surprise that former presidents don’t walk out to the mailbox each day and open their mail themselves.

For security reasons, the Secret Service monitors their mail, so anything personal or not that’s sent through the mail is sure to be diligently searched by the agents. The mail and packages are taken to an off-site location where it is screened by trained staff before they are returned to the former leader.

They Get A Free Office

Picture of Ronald Reagan
Michael Evans/The White House/Getty Images
Michael Evans/The White House/Getty Images

Under the Former Presidents Act, all ex-presidents are given a new office with their rent paid for. They are allowed to establish this office anywhere in the United States and are also given funding for equipment, office supplies, and staff.

The former presidents can make their offices as big or mall as they like. For example, in 2018, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had offices that were more than $400,000 just for the lease, while Jimmy Carter’s was just $112,000.

They Better Get Used To Traffic

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Underwood Archives/Getty Images
Underwood Archives/Getty Images

While serving as president, the commander in chief never has to sit in traffic or stop at a red light because they are riding in the presidential motorcade. However, this all ends once they leave the presidency, and they have to suffer on the roads like everyone else.

According to former President Barack Obama, this was one of the biggest changes after leaving office. He commented I didn’t used to experience traffic […] I used to cause traffic, much to the consternation of any place I was visiting.”

Their Spouse Receives Some Money Too

Picture of Nancy Reagan
Dirck Halstead/Liaison
Dirck Halstead/Liaison

Luckily for the spouses of former presidents, the Former Presidents Act helps them out as well. If a former president were to die before their spouse, the act grants the spouse a $20,000 pension annually.

Nevertheless, the spouse is only eligible to receive this money from the taxpayers if they forego any other pensions or annuities they might have. Because of this, former president widows such as Nancy Reagan and Betty Ford declined the pension.

They Get A State Funeral

Picture of former presidents
Alex Brandon – Pool/Getty Images
Alex Brandon – Pool/Getty Images

Upon their death, any person that has served as president or vice president is entitled to a state funeral. These occasions are typically broadcast all over the world and are attended by former presidents and other high-up members of the government.

These memorial services are taken especially seriously as well, with the U.S. military having a 138-page document instructing how the funeral is conducted from the dicing speed of the procession, floral arrangements, and more.

They Can Make A Lot Of Money

Picture of Bush
Alyssa Pointer-Pool/Getty Images
Alyssa Pointer-Pool/Getty Images

While in the Oval Office, presidents receive a salary of $400,000, which may not seem like all that much considering the nature of their job. However, the opportunity for them to make some serious money comes when they leave the White House.

For example, George W. Bush made $15 million in his first four years out of office by just doing speeches, with plenty of other former presidents having published books and pursued other ventures to make them millionaires.

They Enjoy A Lengthy Retirement

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PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images

Although there are a number of expectations that former presidents are expected to meet, after leaving the presidency, they can feel free to retire. These days, ex-presidents are living much longer than their predecessors, with the average length of time being around 22.5 years when the average length of retirement for the general population is around 18 years.

The former president with the longest retirement was Jimmy Carter with 40 years, and the shortest was James K. Polk, who died 103 days after his term.

They Can Utilize Military Hospitals

Picture of Bush
Eric Draper/The White House via Getty Images
Eric Draper/The White House via Getty Images

Because they served as commander in chief of the United States armed forces, they are considered to be military personnel of the highest rank. This means that after they leave office, they are allowed to be admitted to military hospitals if they wish to do so.

Although former presidents have the option of being treated in one of these facilities, for the most part, former presidents seek medical attention from other outlets if they, unfortunately, need to.

They Can’t Go Anywhere Alone

Picture of Obama
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

If a former president decides to keep their Secret Service on following their presidency, they better not think that they’re going to be getting any privacy. Even though they are no longer the commander in chief, they are still forbidden to go anywhere alone or without their Secret Service detail.

Former Secret Service agent Jonathan Wackrow commented, saying it’s “the most intrusive thing anyone could ever experience” and that they’re never far even during the most uncomfortable of times.

It’s Assumed That They’ll Write A Memoir

Picture of Clinton
Stephen Chernin/Getty Images
Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

Once an individual gives up the title of president of the United States, those that either love and hate them wait in anticipation for the former president to release a memoir.

Whether they write it on their own or someone else writes it for them, it’s typical for them to publish some sort of works describing their experiences leading up to and during their presidency. Former presidents not only do this to tell their story, but it’s also an excellent source of income.

They’re Never Fully Out Of The Spotlight

Picture of Bush and Clinton
Frank Micelotta/Getty Images
Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

Although most of the country’s attention shifts towards the new president in office, former presidents don’t just evaporate in thin air. Not only do they remain major celebrities, but they are also the center of much debate, constantly being brought back up in regards to their policies and actions when serving as president.

Also, if anything of note happens in their personal lives, they can bet that the whole world will know about it soon enough.

They Can Take On Any Venture That They Want

Picture of Obama
Jack Brockway/Getty Images
Jack Brockway/Getty Images

For the most part, it’s rare for a former president to fall off the radar completely. Sure, some may take some time for themselves and their families by traveling, going on vacation, or catching up on some golf, but many continue to work in one way or another.

Whether they become philanthropists, public speakers, or authors, former presidents can essentially do or become anything they want once out of office. They just have to check with the Secret Service first.