The US Election: What Are the Requirements to Become President?

Abe Lincoln

On November 3, America is going to make a decision that will have huge implications for the rest of the world. Every election cycle feels significant but this time around there seems to be so much more at stake. 

Whether you’ve been hooked on The Comey Rule or you’re still uncertain just who Joe Biden is, its always good to get the basics covered. Let us walk you through just what exactly is required of the person who takes up the most powerful office in the world.

Unsplash / Darren Halstead

According to the US constitution, there are only three requirements to being eligible for US President:

“No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.”

So it’s age, residence, and citizenship that you need in order to take the top job.

You also cannot be president after being impeached in office and you can’t be elected president twice either.


Age is a funny one as the requirement of 35 years was imposed as a way of ensuring the president would be an experienced person of “middle age”. I’m not sure about the rest of you but the idea of thinking of 35 as “middle age” is kind of terrifying to me.

The youngest president to ever have held office was Teddy Roosevelt who was Vice President to William McKinley in 1901 and became leader at the age of 42 after his assassination. JFK was also 43 when he was elected and Obama was a sprightly 47.

Weirdly, there is no upper limit on who can be president. The oldest person to ever become president is the current incumbent Donald Trump who was 70 years old when elected. If Joe Biden was to be elected in November, that would make him the oldest president by far at 78 years of age. If he were to serve two terms, that would make him 86 by the time he finished. Although not unheard of, very few people who have held the title have made it to their 90s. Jimmy Carter, 39th president of the United States who assumed office in 1977, is still going strong at 92 years of age!


As the constitution says, only people who have resided in the US for 14 years are allowed to become president. It is a little unclear however if this means 14 consecutive years, or simply 14 years in total. Generally, it is taken to mean the former but no doubt you could make the case for the latter if you had to.

At the time of writing, the authors of the constitution were highly concerned about limiting undue outside influence on their new country, particularly from Britain. This is why they put in these geographical ties as essential for anyone who sought to lead the nation.


The idea of being a ‘natural born citizen’ of the US has a long history and has often been used to try and exclude or disqualify those who would seek to run the country or hold high office. Basically the constitution states that you have to be born in the country but doesn’t really go into much detail. It’s still uncertain whether people who are born to American parents overseas and have become ‘naturalized’ citizens are able to run. What about overseas territories? What about overseas military bases?

Arnold Schwarzenegger, in 2003, made some attempts to get around this requirement by appealing to congress when he was considering a run for president.

In 2008 the whole notion of natural born citizenship was thrown into question by the campaign of Barack Obama. Obama, having been born in Hawaii to a mother of US citizenship and a father of Kenyan citizenship, absolutely qualified to be president. However many people bought into the conspiracy that Obama had actually been born in Kenya and therefore was ineligible to be president.

The ‘birtherism’ conspiracy was cooked up in no small part by the current pres, D J Trump, who publicly questioned Obama’s origins and took credit for the subsequent release of his birth certificate, the legitimacy of which he continues to question.

Since 2008, Republicans in over 20 US states have brought in legislation requiring the submission of birth certificates and other documents proving the candidates legitimacy to be president.

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